"Hushed": documentary highlights stigma, shame and silence around sexual violence

Shivani Jeet (shivaniidevikaa, metoo4bc)

TW: Sexual violence 

Two local women, Project Sisterhood and Gina Judge, have come together to launch a documentary this March to tackle the stigma, shame and silence surrounding sexual violence. 

Project Sisterhood is a non-profit organization based in the Lower Mainland which aims to create events supporting causes for womxn worldwide. 

Founded by Priya Toor, her and the rest of the team have participated in annual care package drives for the Surrey Women’s Centre, organized a food service at SUMS Homeless Shelter, created an online movement for Sexual Assault Awareness Month called “Dear Sis,” funded period packages for recovering women apart of Lookout Society, and donated books and school supplies for young orphan girls in Uganda.  

Gina Judge is an award-winning millennial money coach who teaches you how to better manage your money. With 5 years of experience in the finance industry, Gina has helped thousands of Canadians improve their financial well-being. In 2019, she was nominated for WXN’s Emerging Leader Award -- an award that recognizes 100 of the most powerful womxn in Canada. 

The two have come together to address an issue that is unfortunately quite prevalent in our society.

According to Statistics Canada, one in three women and one in eight men in Canada are sexually violated, with the most common types of unwanted sexual behaviour being harassment and physical contact

Priya and Gina explain the trials and tribulations of being a survivor and why this documentary is essential to address in our community. 

“The both of us have individuals in our lives who have been sexually abused,” said Judge in an interview with 5X Press.

“For myself, watching the documentary about the Pooni Sister’s was a breaking point. It’s something that really stuck with me,” she added.

Judge says that after watching that documentary, she reached out to Priya at Project Sisterhood to discuss the idea of us building a documentary that highlights the effects of sexual abuse on victims. 

“We’re looking to highlight the effects of sexual abuse both in the moment and long term. I think it’s important for survivors to realize that they aren’t alone.” 

According to Priya, the documentary represents the start of a conversation that was long overdue. 

“I have seen women I cherish and respect deteriorate because of their past,” said Priya. “If this documentary even supports one victim to speak up and take a step in getting the justice they deserve, we [can] have made a difference,” she says.

“As women, we need to look out for one another. If we cannot do that for ourselves, for our sisters, then we cannot expect our society to. This is a sisterhood. We grow by healing each other’s wounds.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, additional barriers were posed in the creation of the documentary, but Gina and Priya have made it their goal to ensure there will be safety protocols and procedures from public health orders that will be followed, and to make sure this project gets to the public during an already isolating time.

Since the start of this pandemic, many trauma survivors have been left to deal with unresolved healing and have been forced to deal with past trauma. 

During this extremely difficult time, sexual harassment and other forms of violence against womxn continue to occur, especially behind closed doors. With limited access to resources and help, survivors are left with little to no access to support. 

The road to raising awareness on this sensitive topic is crucial for both Gina and Priya. Especially during these times, planning a documentary is beyond important as this safe space given to survivors will allow them to express their feelings, experiences and thoughts without being gaslit, blamed, silenced and ignored. 

“The story of sexual assault is told the way society paints the experience. Hushed allows for the story to finally be told the way it should be - through the eyes of the victim,” said Priya.

“This documentary is a wake-up call for our community to bathe clean of their poisoned mindsets, while carving a pathway for victims to understand that they have a right to heal. The experience of sexual assault creates this unspoken promise -- that victims feel obligated to keep what happened a secret between them and their abuser. It’s time for the victims who were once hushed to break free and tell their story.”

There is so much power in giving survivors a platform and making them feel empowered to use their voice. The art of storytelling is extremely important, as it gives them a chance to step into their own space and claim back their image, agency and power. 

However, it is also important to know that many survivors may feel afraid and unsafe if there is no option to keep them anonymous from their abusers. 

“We’re in the process of obtaining sponsorships from therapists and counsellors and we’ll be providing these resources to the victims. We’re also reminding them that they only need to share what they feel comfortable sharing,” adds Gina. 

“They’ll also have as much time as they need to answer the questions and discuss their experiences. They also have the option to show their face or to be anonymous. We want this to be a safe space for every victim and respect their journey to heal physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Statistically, womxn are more likely to be violated than their male counterparts. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that men’s experiences and those who identify as non-binary, trans, queer, etc., are to be forgotten about. 

In addition, sexual minority individuals across Canada are three times more likely than hetero Canadians to report that they had been physically or sexually assaulted. 

“We’re in the process of looking for male and transgender representation. At this point, we only have females involved; however, the womxn we’ve connected with come from diverse backgrounds. Diverse representation is extremely important to us.” 

“We are still looking for survivors who would like to share their journey. Anyone wanting to be a part of this documentary can contact either one of us through Instagram: @_projectsisterhood or @iamginajudge” 

Their determination and admiration to plan such an inspiring documentary and hold these important safe spaces for survivors shouldn’t be ignored. 

“As daughters of the South Asian community, like many other womxn, we grew up battling the atrocious monsters birthed from our society. The stigma in speaking u [and] not wanting to follow the ways many of our mothers had, or the simple questioning of why certain things were as they are,” said Priya.

“We hope to break boundaries with this documentary so our future sisters understand that there is value in their consent. So parents can learn to recognize when their child may be scared to speak up. So our community does not get the chance to look away and keep silent again.” 

Gina adds that it is important for society to understand the long term effects of sexual abuse on victims.

“In doing so, people can learn how to support their loved ones who have been sexually abused. In addition to this, we want to encourage sexual abuse survivors to seek counselling and therapy as we know firsthand the road to recovery is not easy,” says Gina.

The pair says they want to normalize these discussions so that parents are having early conversations with their children and preventing future scenarios.

Gina has also launched a Go-FundMe page for those looking to donate to help out with this amazing cause. The money will cover shooting costs, distribution and other expenses. 

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to discussing and educating many on sexual violence, but sharing stories and holding our truth is a critical point to begin with. 

Survivors are authors of their own story and there will always be power to that. Survivors get to decide who they want to share their stories with and how they want to share it. 

Your story is valid whether you told a friend, made a report, or choose to keep it to yourself.

In the words of Chanel Miller, “I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, "Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining." Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.”

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