In this Q&A, T.O. Walker discusses ‘Not My Shame‘, the media’s responsibility on reporting sexual violence and how creativity can aid recovery in sexual violence survivors.
What is unique about the graphic novel format that makes it an appropriate platform for highlighting issues such as trauma and child sexual exploitation?
It felt fitting to communicate experiences from childhood using the format I would have used as a child. When we remember traumatic childhood experiences, we remember them from the perspective of a child not that of an adult, and it felt important to communicate this. Showing the reader the experience through images is also more powerful than describing it because images communicate emotions directly, and this makes it harder for the reader to distance themselves or deny what they are seeing which felt important for ‘Not My Shame’.
Graphic novels are a great medium for both showing and telling a story at the same time. I wanted to immerse people in parts of my experience and emotions, but I also wanted to have a voice and comment on the experiences I was sharing, as this encourages people to reflect on what they are seeing. A graphic novel is also an excellent medium for distorting time and perception: through the images, how they are framed and the order of the panels. Given the nature of traumatic memory, this was very useful.
Finally, I wanted to create something which would be accessible to people who wouldn’t sit down and read a text only book.
How important is it for survivors to find an outlet such as the arts to assist in their recovery?
For many people, creativity is an important part of life and recovery. Creativity can be a way to connect with the world, and a way to share and express emotions without having to force them into particular structures. If people are able to get past expectations about what art/music/poetry should look like then creativity can be very liberating.
Creativity has always been important to me: drawing and painting help me express and share things that l couldn’t in other ways. It is a way of being present in the world, a way of recording what has happened and a way of processing things. I’ve seen different forms of creativity do the same for many other survivors.
The impact of media coverage of sexual violence is heavily featured in Not My Shame. How do you think irresponsible and inaccurate media reporting of sexual violence can contribute to a survivor’s experience?
Irresponsible reporting of sexual violence can be re-traumatising for survivors. When there is a lot in the media about sexual violence, as there has been the last few years, it can feel like there is no escape from it. When this reporting involves things like quoting perpetrators, or using victim blaming attitudes or language, the result can be that survivors feel blamed for their experience and are less able to talk about it.
As a survivor, it is also concerning to see media which either ignores survivors voices or appears to be using survivors stories as a way of selling papers, etc. It is important that survivors have a voice in media reporting of sexual violence, but equally important that they have control over their voice and how it is portrayed. It is important that the media doesn’t exploit survivors for its own gain.
How responsible is the media in the rise of ‘victim blaming’ and ‘rape culture’?
Victim blaming and rape culture are endemic, we all have a responsibility to challenge them wherever we see them. The media has a particular responsibility from its reporting of sexual violence, to dramas which use rape and sexual violence as titillation and advertisements which objectify women. Pornography is also part of this media with increasing numbers of young people learning about sex from pornography that is both dehumanising and violent. Together, these things create a culture which normalises sexual violence and violence against women.
Given how few films and television programs pass the Bechdel test, and that there tends to be less sexual violence in more equal societies, I imagine more representation of women in the media generally would be beneficial, as well as changing the language and portrayal of sexual violence.
A theme in your book is racism in the police, health and education services that prevented an effective response to your experience. How can services improve their response to survivors, and how crucial is an effective response to a survivor’s experience?
Unfortunately, my experiences suggest that racism is ingrained in many services and individuals, as is victim-blaming. The effects of this are multi-faceted. There is a fear of discussing this, which is why I felt it was important to cover it in ‘Not My Shame’. For me, the bottom line is that services need to recognise that a child’s right to be safe is paramount and that racism and racist language in any form distracts from this. It is important that people understand that assault is assault and should be acknowledged and responded to as such, whatever the race of the perpetrator or victim.
An effective response is one that protects the survivors from further harm, and one that makes it clear to survivors that it’s not their fault. An effective response is one that is empowering for survivors, which supports them and respects their autonomy, one which acknowledges the harm done to the victim and validates their emotional responses. This is hugely important: first, do not harm, prevent others from doing harm and help survivors build on their strengths.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope readers will be able to recognise abuse, grooming, victim-blaming and racism. I hope readers will challenge these things when they see them. I hope people will gain increased understanding of the impact of trauma and sexual violence. I would also like both professionals and survivors to feel hopeful and I really want survivors to know they are not alone.
Click here to read more about Not My Shame.
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