Giving victims of sexual violence a space to be heard through #bukansalahkamek exhibition


  • Family
  • Friday, 22 Apr 2022

One of the four areas in the #bukansalahkamek exhibition was a 'bedroom' where testimonies of women and girls who experienced trauma in relationships and marriage were displayed.

Her perpetrator was a student in her school – a senior – who blackmailed one of her friends to take pictures of her changing in the dormitory.

"I was unaware of everything, until K's friends called me. They directed me to a room and continued to interrogate me for everything (sic). They said they found a picture of me, in my underwear. They realised it was me. I found out that it was not only me. K had a folder of photos of naked bodies of his juniors, my own friends, that he sells to his batchmate. I was ashamed. I felt see through. I felt disgusted. Until now. There have been no retributions on K until now, (and) he has a successful life. If only people (knew) how sick in the head he is."

This was Marie's testimony, one of about 25 testimonies of women and children who have experienced harassment and abuse that were presented at the #bukansalahkamek (#notmyfault) exhibition organised by Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS) at the La Promenade Mall in Kuching, Sarawak, for a month until April 16.

The exhibition is part of the NGO's Stop Sexual Violence Campaign that has been organised since 2019. The tagline #bukansalahkamek aims to reassure survivors of sexual violence and abuse that they are not alone, as well as stimulate conversations among the public about the issue.

"The #bukansalahkamek exhibition and campaign is a localised version of the global #Metoo movement. It started because of this culture of victim blaming. There is a huge gap between us wanting to create safe spaces for survivors and actually doing it. So this campaign is a start, it is our way of creating a safe space for survivors to tell their stories and for them to know that what happened to them was not their fault.

"The campaign is also to encourage and normalise conversations about the topic and identify causes of sexual violence. We want to fill the gap ... the lack of comprehensive sexuality education for our young people," says Kim Tan, who spearheaded the exhibition and is leading the campaign for SWWS.

Getting survivors to share their story and be part of the #bukansalahkamek exhibition wasn't a challenge and most survivors want and need to be heard and believed. Photos: Sarawak Women for Women SocietyGetting survivors to share their story and be part of the #bukansalahkamek exhibition wasn't a challenge and most survivors want and need to be heard and believed. Photos: Sarawak Women for Women Society

Tan is herself a survivor of sexual violence and although she went for therapy to help her heal, she found very few avenues where she could talk about her trauma without the fear of being judged and blamed.

"And this enraged me. I also knew many of my friends who were feeling the same and I really wanted to do something. So I looked for an NGO that supports women and I told them about this idea to spearhead this campaign as it is something I am really passionate about," she shares.

"Working on this campaign has helped me to heal, even though it was triggering at times. But it helped me find a community and a purpose. I refuse to allow my perpetrator to take control of my life," she says emphatically.

Tan hopes that the exibition will lead to more open discussions and conversations about sexual violence so the public can learn and be aware about the issue.Tan hopes that the exibition will lead to more open discussions and conversations about sexual violence so the public can learn and be aware about the issue.

Although the campaign has been running since 2019, because of the pandemic, it was run online for the past two years. This wasn't a hindrance to achieving its purpose though. In fact, it increased its visibility as more people spent time online due to the various movement control order periods.

"People were endlessly scrolling, and going online and I think more people were also trying to get into some sort of activism. Maybe time spent at home made people reflect and they were looking for a cause or purpose. So, many tapped into social issues and our audiences picked up," says Tan.

"It is so important for us to have the willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. We are all working towards a safer community and better future and we need to be willing and be open to learning about things that are different and foreign to us. It is time to accept each others' differences and not let survivors live in fear and shame," adds Tan.

Finding survivors to share their stories wasn't at all a challenge.

"The reception was actually very good and it made us realise that a lot of people need a platform like this to feel like they are not alone; to be heard and believed.

"A lot of the time survivors don't tell anyone what happened to them because of the stigma, the shame and the fear that they will be blamed," explains Tan.

In the #bukansalahkamek exhibition, the stories of survivors are divided into four settings: A children's areas with stories of child sexual abuse, a classroom setting with stories of abuse and harassment in schools, a bedroom which highlighted stories of trauma and abuse in relationships and marriages, and also workplaces and public spaces.

The testimonies of schoolchildren about the harassment and abuse they experienced in schools were displayed in a classroom setting.The testimonies of schoolchildren about the harassment and abuse they experienced in schools were displayed in a classroom setting.

"We have about 25 stories which are all translated into English, Bahasa Sarawak and Mandarin.

"Although I would have loved to have this on a bigger scale, I think what we have managed to put together has been successful in getting the public to understand and talk about the issue. And even if it helped a few individuals feel like they are not alone ... that's good," she says.

Tan's message to survivors is an encouraging one.

"There is life after trauma. No one moment in your life defines you. You define life for yourself," she concludes.

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