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Local Activist Shares Details on Sexual Assault Awareness Projects in Bloomington-Normal

Written by on April 29, 2024

Image Courtesy of Survivor Love Letter Bloomington-Normal’s official Instagram page

NORMAL, Ill. – According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, two out of every three cases of sexual assault go unreported leaving so many stories untold. “Our side” is a documentary by Jinglen Zeng detailing not only the stories untold but the next chapters in the lives of survivors. It will be played at the Normal Theater tonight at 7 to close out Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 

The event is hosted by Kylie Maurer, alongside the YWCA sexual assault support and education group “Stepping Stones.” Maurer had plenty to say about the nuances of this issue, and what she hopes to accomplish by holding events like this. 

“So oftentimes, when we talk about sexual violence and sexual assault, we are talking about the harm and the hurt, which is an incredibly important part of the story,” said Maurer. “But she [Zeng] wanted to create a film and tell a story through a documentary about healing and growth  and possibility. And that it’s not the end of your life, that’s not the end of your story, that’s not what has to break you forever. It can be a part of your story and there can be life afterwards.” 

Many of the conversations about the issue of sexual assault are focused on the culture causing it known as “rape culture.” This  is known as the societal perpetuation of the idea that sexual assault is an inevitable event caused by actions of the victims or circumstances they find themselves in. In terms of the aftermath of experiencing sexual assault, the conversations are often focused on, as Maurer said, “the harm and the hurt.” It wasn’t until she made her way to the “Resilient Voices” retreat in North Carolina that she saw a brighter future for survivors. 

“And the idea is not to, you know, magically heal, you have trauma,” Maurer said about the goals of the retreat. “The idea is more so to invite people who have experienced sexual violence and sexual assault, to try different healing modalities. So you have the opportunity to try equine therapy working with horses. There is art therapy sessions, there is restorative yoga – that’s trauma-informed yoga. There are kind of learning sessions about different therapies and healing modalities and the brain and trauma responses. So, the retreat really gives you an opportunity to learn and grow and see the things that might help you. But I think the more important aspect of this retreat is learning that you are not alone, and there are other people out there and those people are living beautiful and whole lives.” 

Zeng also attended “Resilient Voices” and was granted permission to film the documentary on site. Another piece of the film is about the Normal branch of the exhibit “Survivor Love Letter,” run by Maurer herself, where survivors of sexual assault, and those in support of them write messages for individuals who have experienced that type of violence, and they are hung in a gallery. Maurer spoke on why displays like this are so important and impactful. 

“Every 68 seconds in the United States, another person is sexually assaulted,” Maurer said. “And we have to tell the stories of those folks. I think there are stories that are bigger than statistics out there. And those stories can be told through individual’s own voices, through their artwork, and through the lives that they live. And so I want to kind of be the bouncing scales between those two things, and uplift the voices of survivors in our community, and, you know, in our country and world, but really uplifting those voices to tell a more accurate story that goes beyond statistics.” 

With so many emotionally charged statements on such a sensitive topic, there are bound to be powerful reactions from the viewers of the gallery. Because of this, Maurer has served as a confidant to some of the people who visited.  

“They’re present in the gallery and coming up to me, and they’ll share their story with me, you know,” Maurer said. “We’ll clasp hands and speak with each other about things that maybe [they’ve] never told anyone before. And then they leave and I never see them again. But that impact, the very human, very personal impact is at the heart of this project.” 

As someone who’s visited retreats like “Resilient Voices” and facilitated projects like “Survivor Love Letter” and “Our Side,” Maurer is deeply ingrained in the movement working to inform the public about and end rape culture. She shared her motivation for the work she’s done for the cause.  

“Part of my story that I feel very comfortable sharing is that I was raped years ago,” Maurer said. “If there’s a line of geese and a V, there’s one at the front and that one takes a lot of pressure from the wind, and it takes the pressure off the people behind them. Right now through my work, I’ll be that first goose. I will flap my wings hard and speak what happened to me and name what happened to me because there are other people who will never get the opportunity to name what happened to them. And if I can make it a little bit easier, or make them feel a little bit safer through my work in this community then I’ve done my job well.”