Student Sexual Assault Survivors’ Stories Shared in Video
This image of a naked woman with writing and the symbol for sexual assault survivors on her back will appear at the beginning of the “Your Story Matters” video. IMAGE COURTESY OF KHALED KHALILI.
BY JIM MALVEN
This Thursday, volunteers from the Remley REST Center will host the 2017 Remley Women’s Leadership Conference. The highlight of the conference — as well as its title — will be “Your Story Matters,” a video in which 17 Westminster students share their experiences of being sexually assaulted.
The video was created by Lisa Gardner, a sophomore at Westminster who also has survived sexual assault. Of the 17 interviewees, three are male, and 14 are female. Some of the incidents described in the video occurred at Westminster, and others happened off campus. The video will be about 14 to 15 minutes.
Gardner said that the purpose of “Your Story Matters” is to foster dialogue about sexual assault and promote better understanding of survivors. In fact, she said that she is “trying to make people uncomfortable” by showing the film, in order to create change.
“In a sense, I’m trying to make people uncomfortable with this video.” –Lisa Gardner
She also said that the film could let survivors know that they are not alone and inspire them to report their assaults sooner and more frequently. Although Gardner’s assaults occurred from mid-February 2016 through that April, she did not talk with anyone at the college about the incidents until finals week and did not officially report them until late August, she said.
“In my situation as well as many of the others that I have learned [of], I felt like I was the only person who was struggling with my situation or I was the only one who had gone through it,” she said.
She added: “If I had known that other people on campus had been through the same if not similar situations, I am really curious how differently the whole thing would have turned out. Perhaps I would have gone to the school sooner and sought help, or perhaps I wouldn’t have had to carry the weight of the struggle on my back.”
Gardner said that reporting her incidents “helped immensely.”
“I was able to know for sure he [the assaulter] couldn’t bug me, and if he did, I’d have the entire school backing me,” she said.
“I felt like I was the only person who was struggling with my situation …” –Gardner
“I kept thinking of my personal story, and one thing that was very important to me was that people would believe me and treated me like my situation mattered,” she said. “So, after playing around [with] various titles, I came up with ‘Your Story Matters,’ and after it popped in my head, I knew that it was the title of the entire project.”
Indeed, “Your Story Matters” is a project and has multiple contributors. These include sophomore Khaled Khalili, a freelance graphic designer who has been editing the video and designing “Your Story Matters” posters. Khalili said that he volunteered to participate in the project right after hearing about it from Gardner last semester.
“I volunteered at the beginning, because the project was a creative and amazing idea in the mind of friend [and] I really wanted to help make it a reality,” he said. “At the same time, looking at the statistics of the number of college students [who] go through any form of violence, including sexual or domestic assault, made me feel the responsibility to do something about it.”
“Looking at the statistics … made me feel the responsibility to do something about it.” –Khaled Khalili, ’19
Meanwhile, Gardner describes Khalili as “a greater collaborator and editor.” She said that she “almost feels bad” because her job has been over since the interviews ended three weeks ago and she does not have an editing program on her computer.
“I can merely look over his shoulder and give my opinions, but he is the one staying up late putting the video together,” she said. “For him, I am extremely grateful.”
Gardner also said that she is grateful for the interns and directors of the Remley REST Center. She said that Remley members took it upon themselves to make “Your Story Matters” the highlight and name of the conference, which she “never expected.”
“I feel incredibly blessed to be working with them, and all of them have been sweet, from Dr. Kasi [Lacey] to Dr. Cinnamon [Brown], and all of the interns,” she said. “When I go to meetings, I don’t feel like a stranger, and I feel welcomed. Remley has given me so much support.”
When asked about the “Your Story Matters” video, Brown called it “powerful, inspiring and empowering — especially for the survivors.”
“I am so proud of what Lisa and Khaled have done,” she said.
“I have never felt closer to the people on this campus as I do now, and I can’t wait to see what happens once the video is out,” she said. “I hope that the feeling of closeness or camaraderie will continue, if not grow.”
Below, left: This poster designed by Khalili shows an anonymous survivor hidden behind the symbol for sexual assault survivors, sometimes called a “fire rose.” Right: The conference will begin at 5:30 p.m., and a complementary dinner will be available at 5 p.m..