Writing workshop in Edmonton helps healing for sex assault survivors BY CHRIS ZDEB, EDMONTONJOURNAL.COM MAY 28, 2012
EDMONTON — Janet Goldblatt Holmes’s first sexual experience was date rape. She was 16 years old, on a ski trip with her family, when she met an 18-year-old man. He took her out for supper. They went back to his place, then to his room, where they started kissing and the man got carried away, ignoring her pleas to stop because she wasn’t ready for intercourse.
Shocked, angry, embarrassed, frightened, and worried about what her parents would say, Goldblatt Holmes, who says she was a naive teen, blamed herself and decided to tell no one. She prayed she wouldn’t get pregnant (she didn’t), then decided to carry on as if nothing happened.
Years would go by before Goldblatt Holmes would realize the impact the sexual assault had on her.
“My confidence, my self-esteem … my ability to trust and feel safe and to be intimate were greatly compromised,” she says on the phone from her home in Barrie, Ont.
Now 59, the trained dancer and artist will share her story in Edmonton this weekend, when The Stories We Tell, a testimonial writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence and human trafficking, makes its Canadian debut.
The workshop is the co-creation of Anne Ream, a Chicago-based writer, survivor of sexual assault, and founder of Voices and Faces Project voicesandfaces.org, created to give voice and face to survivors of sexual violence, offering a sense of solidarity to those who have lived through rape and abuse, while raising public awareness.
Over two days, Friday and Saturday, the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton sace.ab.ca will host 16 survivors, most of them from Edmonton and northern Alberta, who will read and discuss the healing power of testimonial writing, share their stories, and engage in a series of writing exercises.
This isn’t the first writing workshop around sexual violence, notes Karen Smith, the centre’s executive director, but the first one done by this particular group.
“We saw an opportunity to provide people a very new and innovative way to enhance their own healing.
“I don’t think talk therapy is dead, but sometimes when people are done their talk therapy and they want to continue to heal, they’ll look for alternative ways and certainly writing is a great one,”
What Goldblatt Holmes is doing — talking publicly about her sexual assault, putting her face out there — is more American than Canadian, says Smith.
“We don’t have many Canadians that want to be like Janet. At this point, Canadians are more reserved … but I do commend her for being a pioneer … because I think it will show other people that it’s OK, that there is no shame in putting your name and face to do this,” Smith continues. “I think the writing workshop and The Voices and Faces Project will start that happening.
“Voices and Faces is awesome for being able to say. ‘It wasn’t my fault, somebody else did this to me, I didn’t ask for it, I’m not to blame for this, because so often that’s why sexual assault survivors don’t want to talk about it — not even to police — because they feel they’re to blame.”
Although Goldblatt Homes admits to being both excited and nervous about speaking out publicly, “when you hear someone else’s story, in an odd way, there is great comfort, because we’re not alone and as horrible as each experience is, we’re victims and yet we’re not victims, because our lives can move on.
“I think that’s an important message. The people I have met are all thriving adults who have been able to integrate the experience into our lives, and it doesn’t have to define who we are.”
Goldblatt Holmes was in her 40s when she began to release the fear and anger locked inside her, after noting that situations of conflict triggered a freeze response in her body, similar to what she experienced the night of the rape.
It would be 10 more years before a magazine article on survivors of rape, featuring Ream and The Voices and Faces Project, prompted her to write about her own story and make it public.
“No one has to suffer alone, you don’t need to carry the burden,” Goldblatt Holmes says. “Talk to someone, write about it. I’m much more of an advocate now, I’m much more aware of the issue of sexual assault and the impact it has on young people, that is what my writing and my dealing with what has happened to me has helped me do.
“If I can help bring this difficult and horrible topic into the open, then maybe a young woman or a young man, can say ‘This happened to me,’ so they don’t have to live until their 40s or 50s to say something.”
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