Upfront Survivors – March 2023
Reflections on a cultural space led by survivors for survivors
Last month, together with partners SARSAS and Viv Gordon Company The Green House helped host our first pop-up cultural space as part of our national Home Office funded Upfront Survivors Project. The project is about creating voice, visibility, community, and leadership opportunities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
“I found the event extremely empowering and there was a very positive motivational energy amongst the public and Viv which allowed me to feel connected to others and strong within myself!”
Why a pop-up cultural space?
The idea behind our pop-up spaces, which will be travelling around the country for the next two years, is that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse have never met another survivor. So often experiences of abuse are compounded by a profound sense of isolation because there are few spaces where we can safely self-identify. In individual therapy spaces we learn to build new connections with ourselves, but outside of the therapy room we step back into a cultural silence about this issue, relationships with family and friends forever changed. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse don’t need to be alone. There are 11 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the UK, in Avon and Somerset 19,000 will experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. Through Up Front Survivors we are creating cultural and community spaces for survivors to come together, build lasting and, we hope, lifelong connections grounded in the solidarity of shared experience. These connections will be the foundation of creating the social change that’s so urgently needed in our society’s response to CSA.
Upfront Survivors took over the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol for four days of creative workshops from upcycling to creating your inner superhero, an exhibition of Viv Gordon and Imogen Harvey-Lewis’ fantastic cards ‘The ABC of CSA’, a launch party, stand-up comedy show and extraordinary open mic night.
Over 400 people came through the doors, among them several of you – young people, parents and carers from The Green House.
So we asked:
What was it like to come into a space led by survivors for survivors?
"It was just a bit busy for me, but I still enjoyed it. I would say it felt comfortable, nice, freeeee!”
“I felt a little overwhelmed at the launch night, for many reasons! There were so many people in one space all talking about ‘it’, you know that thing we’re not supposed to. That thing that makes people uncomfortable or prone to gossip, but it was ok. I was worried about Jazz’s reaction but aside from struggling with the crowd, she tells me it was ok!! I felt ok enough to then attend the poetry workshop and the open mic night, both of which I enjoyed. I think it helped to have a supporter from the greenhouse with me, I’m not sure I would be I would have been brave enough to attend completely on my own!!! It was nice to be guided in writing and I finally produced a piece that feels positive, that feels like we’re moving forwards. Initially I felt like an imposter, like I wasn’t supposed to be there as I wasn’t the victim directly. However I was very gently, but firmly put in my place and very literally welcomed with open arms. I laughed, I cried, I hugged and I would definitely go back!! Next time I may even wear zebra print to dazzle!!!!” – Connie (Parent)
“For 38 years, I’ve struggled almost entirely alone with my lived experiences of abuse. Its why the Z card of the ABC of CSA always strikes a chord with me “Feeling like a zebra in a world full of giraffes” – it pretty much sums up every relationship in my life, and my relationship to myself. But through the Upfront Survivors partnership and in my role at the Green House, I’ve finally found a place to belong. My experience of the pop-up space was one of total freedom to be every part of myself, it felt like a place that I was coming home too. It is liberating and overwhelming to find yourself in a room of people who just understood heart and soul – no questions asked, no need to explain. Offering people an opportunity to safely self-identify as a survivor and their family members by wearing zebra print created such a sense of community, the community I realised I have been missing all this time. It was hard and at times triggering, but I felt safe in this space knowing that here there were people who could catch me if I fell. It was a life-changing moment for me to watch young people and their families meet other CSA survivors for the first time – it’s a privilege to be able for the first time as services to be able to offer 1-1 support as well as the opportunity to join a community. A community wearing stripes, a community that is no longer in hiding, a community where we might not always get along or agree – but a community that is ours and together at last.” – Gemma (The Green House CEO)
Below are two poems written and generously shared by Connie during the Upfront Survivor’s poetry workshop.
I believe (by Connie)
I believe I deserve to be here
I believe my daughter is strong,
I believe our reduced family unit is stronger –
With him gone.
I believe I can continue to survive,
I believe J will eventually thrive,
I believe in new beginnings.
I don’t believe he is capable of telling the truth,
I don’t believe prison will cure him
I don’t believe he knows the extent of the harm he caused.
I need to believe he’s gone
I believe without him we’ve won.
I believe in us –
In building trust,
With him gone,
I believe that means I won.