As the #MeToo movement continues to spread throughout the entertainment industry and in the government on an unprecedented scale, and as local women begin to come forward with their own stories, many are left wondering, “What comes next?”
To help look for answers for survivors and advocates, the Center for Women and Families is offering a community discussion at the Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Branch on Thursday, with a panel of specialists and survivors who will answer questions and facilitate the discussion.
Insider spoke with Kiera Hall, the Center’s communications manager, to get an idea of what that lecture will be like and to address some of the ideas and emotions swirling around this watershed moment.
The community discussion came out of a need the Center saw in the Louisville community.
“We wanted to provide a safe space, an inclusive space, for people to figure out what they can do,” said Hall. “Some people don’t know how to support survivors.”
The biggest single piece of advice Hall can offer to people who wish to support survivors can be boiled down to a single word: listen.
“The people who have been doing the work for a long time have really listened and paid attention to survivors,” she said.
Listening to and believing survivors is an act our culture struggles with, according to Hall, which can, in turn, affect people’s willingness to go public with their experiences or even report them to police.
“If you’re not listening, if you’re not believing survivors, of course a survivor’s not going to want to come forward and speak out about their experience if they are afraid they are not going to be believed,” said Hall. “And historically, and lot of times, they haven’t been believed.”
The discussions also will include help for those who want to take action.
“Some people want to do something or want to help, and the problem seems very overwhelming and large, and they aren’t sure how they can help,” she said.
While the #MeToo movement hopefully will bring a voice to women who suffer assault and harassment, it can be a difficult moment for survivors as they try to grapple with deciding when and if they can speak out.
“We try to remind everybody it’s an individual’s story to share, and it’s up to them if it’s a story they want to share or not,” said Hall. “We certainly recognize the bravery of those who choose to come forward, but we also want to remind people that just because someone is not ready to share their story, that doesn’t make them any less brave.”
Part of the discussion — and the work of the Center and other advocates of survivors — is to make sure there is a place for survivors to speak out and feel safe.
“We want to create safe space, a space where we believe the survivors who are ready to come out,” said Hall.
Creating that safe space involves listening and letting people go at their own pace in discussing their trauma. It also involves doing so without judgment.
“Many survivors will get almost tearful when they talk about their experiences with the Center, because they said they were listened to and they weren’t judged,” Hall explained. “People have a tendency to ask what they were wearing, or where were they at, or had they been drinking. And the bottom line is, none of that matters. They did not consent.”
Self-care also is a topic the community discussion will address.
“We try to be careful about sharing about self-care for everyone — that goes for advocates or people who are working closely with survivors a lot of the time,” said Hall.
Historically, the Center for Women and Families has been known for its work with survivors, but in recent years, it has put a lot of resources into education and prevention.
“It’s great that we’re there to put the Band-Aid on and address the aftermath of assault, but we weren’t addressing the problem, and we wanted to get upstream and ahead of the problem,” said Hall. “So several years ago the Center made a really big commitment to prevention.”
Educational programs run the gamut from working with high school students, to going into bars and restaurants to train staff how on how to recognize people at risk, to dedicated trainers who work with doctors, human resources directors and more.
Thursday’s meeting will include folks who can speak to a wide range of issues. Panelist include a lawyer and a forensic nurse, among others.
All of these topics will likely be brought up, but the individual stories and statements of the panelists, which includes survivors, will be a good chance for attendees to not only ask questions, but also to practice implementing the single piece of advice that pervaded a lot of Hall’s statements: listen to women, listen to survivors.
The community discussion will be held at the Louisville Free Public Library, 301 York St., from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7. The event is open to the public.