The Sunflower Project
Helping survivors turn towards the sun
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Letters to Survivors: A Blog

Sexual Assault Panel at Doc Your World: Who's Responsibility is it?

May 3rd and 4th, Columbia's Film Row Cinema was buzzing with creative nonfiction art of all kinds. From radio to dance to virtual reality, Doc Your World was a huge success.

I was part of the class that put on Doc Your World, so I had the opportunity to curate an hour and a half block of work shown centered around Sexual Assault Awareness. 

Cassandra Kaczor composed three pieces of music that were performed. Then, Untold was shown. This is the second time Untold has been screened, and let me tell you it doesn't get any easier to watch. This is the first time I was able to watch the film with my father next to me, and man, that was that difficult! I felt like we were filming the piece all over again, which wasn't an easy feeling to swallow. 

Following the performances and screening, we had a panel/q&a session. The panel consisted of myself, my father, Cassandra, and the founder of The Awakenings Foundation, Jean Cozier. This was one of the most difficult panels I've ever been on.

We were asked questions like, "What advice would you give to a young person in an abusive relationship?" "What should a friend do when they try to get their friend out of an abusive relationship but they won't listen to them" and "How can family and friends be supportive of survivors?"

These were really difficult questions to answer. I've been thinking a lot about those questions, and how I and my peers answered them. This thought process took me back to the day I ultimately broke up with my abuser.

During school that day, my friends pulled me aside and told me they were worried about me. I immediately got very angry at them (something a lot of survivors can admit to doing) and dismissed what they said. However, that night I ended up breaking it off with him for good. Something they said must have stuck with me, because that's no coincidence.

But what would have gotten through to me beforehand? What could have stopped it? Jean profoundly pointed out that it's "not the responsibility of the teenage girl to keep herself safe" and I totally agree. There's nothing that could have gotten me to leave him earlier, because once it happens there's no going back. Besides, even if I had ended it earlier, that probably wouldn't have had an effect on the aftermath of the relationship.

So the answer to the first question asked of us is nothing. There's nothing you can do to get that young girl out of that relationship until she decides enough is enough. That's not what I'm here to do--that's not what The Sunflower Project is here to do. We are here to stop it before it starts.

It's the responsibility of the society that grows abusers to keep these possible victims safe. We grow these young people with minds that think it's okay for a significant other to be jealous, to be manipulative, to be controlling and vindictive and possessive. It's the responsibility of parents and teachers to not only be role models but to be advocates for safety and healthy relationships. 

And most importantly, the responsibility falls on us as survivors to keep that young teenager safe. It falls on those of use who have made it out the other side and can look back and have an insight that nobody else on the planet has. The responsibility to shield the vulnerable and naive and young from the manipulative and jealous and abusive is a big one, but one we can and must accept. 

To all the survivors out there: let's take this on together.

"Untold" won the Storytelling Award. Above: Filmmakers Leah and David on the red carpet at #DocYourWorld.

Leah Zeiger