8 May 2017

My Documentary Aims to Break the “Contract of Silence”

Authored by: Danijela Stajnfeld, survivor and filmmaker. View her website: https://www.holdmerightfilm.com/

Why do survivors feel guilty when they are sexually assaulted? What makes them feel like they are somehow at fault? What keeps survivors from coming forward?

A major part of the reason is that our society is still guided by false assumptions about sexual assault. People commonly attach certain prejudices and labels to the crime and to the healing process and, by doing so, imply that responsibility for the assault and the consequences lies with the victims.

Comments such as these are all too frequent and all too often accepted without challenge:

“How could someone so famous do something like that–I don’t think that’s the whole story.”

“What was she wearing? I bet she was asking for it.”

“The victim is ruining his life; he had so many prospects.”

“She should have seen the warning signs.”

Consequently, survivors of sexual assault experience two traumas: the harrowing experience of the assault, and the often life-long vow of silence.

The women, men, and children who feel this guilt deserve to be acknowledged, accepted, and assured they’ve done nothing wrong. The millions of survivors who are still in silence deserve to tell their stories without the fear of judgment.

Cries for justice, punishment, and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ have an important role in our society. However, there is one cry that we do not hear enough, “We’ve got to be there for her.”

The documentary film I directed and produced, Hold Me Right, raises that cry.

Hold Me Right explores the aftermath of sexual assault

Why do people question survivors’ claims of being raped? Statistically, cases of victims lying about being assaulted are anomalies. Yet the questioning continues.

Often loved ones like friends and family members cannot, or will not, bring themselves to believe that people they know and love so dearly could commit acts as vile as rape. Some keep their victims silent through career or position–abusers of power in the military, law enforcement, the entertainment industry, and politics.

The feeling that they can’t come forward, the guilt, the shame, and often the blame, cause victims of sexual assault to enter a downward spiral leading in many cases to PTSD, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.

Through intimate first-hand testimonies, Hold Me Right depicts our society’s collective lack of sensitivity, awareness, trust and empathy for rape victims and exposes the consequences of our ingrained misconceptions.

The film explores the “contract of silence” about sexual abuse imposed by our society and questions how and why victims of abuse are often held accountable for the crimes they survived.

The decision to make Hold Me Right came at a point of utter necessity

After struggling for many years following my own assault, I reached the point where I could no longer sit in silence.

By not speaking out, it felt that I was condoning the crime and allowing my abuser to keep the power. Of the few people to whom I told about my assault, most reacted with disbelief and blame.

I suffered from severe PTSD symptoms and was so distraught that I searched for meaning in the crime. Even my boyfriend blamed me for what happened. Because neither of us knew how to deal with the aftermath of the assault, the scars of the trauma stayed open.

It has been seen that survivors who are immediately met with love and support are far less likely to develop PTSD symptoms. I knew I needed to do something about this so that other survivors might have the chance to heal properly.

Hold Me Right seeks to empower survivors and members of the community alike

With education and practice, survivors and their allies– friends, families, teachers, co-workers–will better understand how to treat victims of sexual assault, how to give them the space and trust to come forward, and how to help them move beyond their trauma to a place of being at peace. The majority of people don’t know how to address survivors of sexual assault because our culture doesn’t teach it. The media surrounding sexual assault points the finger at the criminal and ignores empathizing with the victim.

Hold Me Right calls on society to help survivors regain their power. We aim to promote a cultural climate in which survivors feel comfortable coming forward, free from judgment and doubt. It is essential that people understand that survivors are worthy and capable of healing, as long as we are met with the support we need and deserve.

The film will serve as guidance, to help our society become one that does not blame and shame its victims but, instead, protects its survivors. If you haven’t experienced sexual assault yourself, then you know someone who has, even if you don’t know it.

We must break the silence!

View the Hold Me Right trailer at https://www.holdmerightfilm.com/

About the author

After earning her MFA from the Academy of Film and Theater at the University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia, Danijela achieved critical and commercial acclaim in film, television, and theater in her country.

The Hole, her directorial debut, premiered at The New Filmmakers Film Festival NY ’16, and has been presented at Women Behind the Camera screening series in Los Angeles.

Hold Me Right is an especially important project for Danijela, as she draws on her personal experiences and activism to create this documentary film, with the hope of inspiring social change.

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