Guest Blogger – Karin Venegas
Our guest blogger series continues with an inspiring post by filmmaker Karin Venegas, whose powerful documentary UNAFRAID: VOICES FROM THE CRIME VICTIMS TREATMENT CENTER is an official selection of the 2015 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
My documentary film, UNAFRAID: VOICES FROM THE CRIME VICTIMS TREATMENT CENTER, examines the devastating impact of sexual assault on a person’s life by chronicling the stories of four rape survivors on their individual journeys toward healing. The film is set at The Crime Victims Treatment Center in Manhattan, where they all receive counseling. More than a story of victimization, it is a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity of ordinary individuals to effect change.
Interwoven with the survivors’ narratives is a historic look back at the treatment center’s original founding at the height of 1970s feminist activism. To tell this story, I turn the camera on my own mother and her best friend, highlighting their pioneering work on behalf of victims’ rights.
I was inspired to make this film after spending two years with the Crime Victims Treatment Center as a “Volunteer Advocate.” With training and certification from the New York State Department of Health, I signed up for night time shifts on call, should any rape or domestic violence victims report to the local emergency room. My role was to provide crisis counseling and emotional support during their night in the ER, as they negotiated very difficult decision-making: Do I want to report this crime to the police? Do I want to undergo a physical forensic examination? Should I tell my family, my friends, my partner? If I don’t feel safe at home, where should I go?
It was a transformative experience. The violence and heartache I witnessed was shocking and upset me to my core. There is a lot of injustice in this world and to be present with someone in the aftermath of such extreme trauma brings that message home on a deeply personal level. Yet it was also inspiring, uplifting work. There is nothing more rewarding than to be of service and support to someone in their time of need. The ugliness that humanity can inflict is no match for its kindness.
What struck me most, was the frequency with which I got called into the emergency room. There was a steady stream of new victims each month. Sexual assault and domestic violence are frighteningly common. And yet so many victims remain silent – too afraid, ashamed, and confused to report to the police or seek medical care and counseling. These forms of violence are such intimate violations, they makes victims feel so utterly alone, unaware that so many others have suffered the same injustice.
I wanted to leverage the power of personal narrative to humanize the statistics and make a film that would help lift the stigma that traps victims in silence.
But above all, I wanted to remind my audience that social change is possible. A better world too often feels elusive. Fighting inequality and injustice requires both personal and systemic changes that are at once complex and enormous. When I feel like giving up, I remember my mother. As is revealed in my film, her efforts were groundbreaking and led to significant institutional and cultural change. Yet her goals were never so lofty. She was just “doing her job” and doing it well.
The lesson I have learned from my mother’s story, and the lesson I hope to share through my film, is this (and it’s really very simple):
Change is possible. It occurs when good people do good work over time.
That’s it: Good people, doing good work, over time.