Editor Lisa Schlichtman: Giving a voice to survivors
When I began contemplating asking my news team to tackle an in-depth series on sexual assault, I knew I wanted to include the stories of survivors. Data and interviews with experts are important and provide a strong foundation for a reporting series, but it’s the personal stories that grab hold of the reader and make them care about the topic you’re reporting on.
Finding survivors of sexual assault who wanted to share their story publicly was very difficult at first — and for good reason. Victims can feel shame about what happened to them, and oftentimes, they’d rather forget than remember. And in interviewing them about the assault, I was asking them to relive what was likely the darkest moment of their lives.
One brave woman stepped forward to tell her story that first week, and from there, more survivors followed her lead. Each week, I had men and women contact me and tell me that reading the survivor’s stories inspired them to tell theirs, and over the past eight weeks, we were able to publish nine different stories — all told by courageous people who live among us — our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our family members.
These interviews with survivors changed me.
I learned how to interview someone who has experienced an intense trauma. Rather than controlling the interview with specific questions, I learned to lean in and listen — to let the person tell me their story — often in non-linear fragments — without interruption. I tried to create a safe space for each survivor to share their story, and I felt privileged to listen to every single detail.
It wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I cried with the survivor, and other times, I found myself swallowing down anger at the cruelty and violence another human being could inflict on another. I struggled with sharing the right information with our readers when I wrote these stories, and I hoped with all my being that these words on a page would make a difference.
I also realized that sexual assault can happen to anyone — the good girl, the shy introvert looking for companionship, the innocent child and the man or woman looking to enjoy a fun night out with friends.
But most importantly, I want to thank each of the individuals who met with me and shared their story of survival. You are brave, you are courageous — your story matters and telling it breaks through the shame and the silence.
And you are not alone. There is strength in knowledge, and because of your willingness to share what happened to you, I believe our readers really listened and they can no longer ignore the fact that sexual assault is a serious issue that happens here in our beautiful mountain town.
And I hope it’s your stories that inspire people in our community to work together to combat this issue.
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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Shane Gassaway never envisioned himself trading in his stack of thick philosophy textbooks in New Orleans for a bright green and orange vest in Steamboat Springs.