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Not My Shame: the shame will belong to the perpetrators.

Zara Asif

Research Assistant, Marginalised Communities Programme, ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health

04 April 2023

Shame and self-blame are common culturally mediated responses of minoritised women with experiences of sexual violence, and this is a huge barrier in being able to talk about experiences and access support.

Shame and self-blame are common culturally mediated responses of minoritised women with experiences of sexual violence, and this is a huge barrier in being able to talk about experiences and access support. This project aimed to take a step towards focusing on empowering survivors of violence and abuse and provide a platform to amplify the voices of survivors through a creative arts collaboration and occupying a self-care-based approach.

Not My Shame was an art-therapy initiative which successfully facilitated healing by recipients of abuse. Five participants shed feelings of shame and self-blame by producing poems and other creative output during creative writing workshops, facilitated by Andreena Leeanne. The project was hosted by the Maya Centre (a community-based women’s charity), in collaboration with their Women’s Hub project. This included their Women’s Hub Manager as well as a therapist that was present at the workshops. Following this, a zine was created by Zoe Thompson (founder of Sweet-Thang zine). The zine is a collaboration of the work produced by the participants of the self-care workshops and captures the work they were able to produce. 

The zine was launched and celebrated at the Science Gallery London which brought together facilitators, participants, and creators to share the creative work with a wider audience. The participants of the workshops shared written poetry and Andreena delivered a short well-being activity based on positive affirmation cards.

Some quotes from the event and around the project:

When we hold shame, we can’t focus on our wellbeing. Writing is a form of therapy which helps us to lift that shame from inside and move it on to paper.– Andreena
I never saw poetry as therapy, then I was given seven minutes in a workshop to write something and from those seven minutes, I haven’t stopped writing.– Participant
[Poetry] helped me to not define myself by the trauma I have experienced.– Jaqueline O, poet who wrote ‘Garden Song’ for the zine

The project itself sat within the Marginalised Communities programme at the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health. Funded by VAMHN, the project allowed our researchers to get involved in an arts-based project and raise awareness about the challenges facing survivors of gender-based violence. The project also enabled our researchers to create and provide a platform for survivors of violence to share their experiences and work together creatively with those with lived experience. The Not My Shame project allowed us to reach women who might not ordinarily access counselling or therapy: women from minoritised backgrounds who may have experienced multiple barriers to wellbeing – and who will benefit from more voice, choice, and control over the design of services most helpful to them.

Working on this project has been a valuable experience and gave us the opportunity to work with an inspiring and powerful group of women. It has allowed us to learn more about the lived experiences of survivors of gender-based violence and understand the different narratives surrounding shame and guilt and the impact this has on help-seeking for survivors. Working with Andreena, Zoe, Evie, and leads at the Maya Centre has been amazing, as they were able to bring their own insights and expertise to the project which allowed for such a positive experience for the participants involved. The zine launch event was an event centred around healing, sharing and promoting awareness, and all participants and creatives agreed that it achieved that purpose. The hope is to continue this project forward in some capacity and inform further research and impact policy related to violence against women and girls. – Zara Asif, Research Assistant and Project Lead
It was unusual playing a distant role, as Zara and I did not attend any of the creative workshops. To provide a space where people felt like they could open up, we made sure that participants were only among Black, queer, survivors of abuse. Andreena, who ran the workshops, fed back to us on a regular basis, but it wasn’t until the 6 workshops were complete, that we met the participants. We joined a debrief session a week after the final workshop, and this had an incredible impact on me. The participants were very open about their experiences of the workshops and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, which was amazing to hear. It was evident that the workshops were very powerful. The women highlighted the power of creativity, the power of writing, and the power of support from your own community. One participant who was very sceptical of poetry before the workshops said it felt like writing helped her get her worries out of her head and onto the page, leading to feeling much less anxious. All of them said that they would have liked to carry on doing the creative writing sessions.– Georgie Gnan, Research Associate and Project Lead

Download the Zine

You can download the Not My Shame Zine via the link below

In this story

Zara Asif

Zara Asif

Research Assistant

Georgina Gnan

Georgina Gnan

Research Associate

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