• Adult Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
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  • Prevent Intimate Partner Violence
  • Violence Against Women Resource Library
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  • Domestic Violence Awareness Project
  • Building Comprehensive Solutions
  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence


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Only 290 days before the start of DVAM 2018...

Storytelling as a Tool for Raising Awareness & Inspiring Action

by Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance & Resource Specialist for National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

“Storytelling is at the heart of what we do as advocates and movement builders. There’s a story behind why we started doing this work, a story that keeps us going, a story that connects us, and a story that will bring others along.” – Movement to End Violence
The telling of stories is in our human nature. From visual stories such as the cave paintings of prehistorical times, to oral stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, to today’s digital stories, storytelling has always been a part of human interaction. Storytelling reflects who we are and allows us to recapture, record, share and make meaning of our lived experiences.
But what do we mean by stories? Stories are our personal accounts – “what we survived and how, what these experiences mean to us, and what we know now that we did not know before” (Blanch, Filson, Penney & Cave, 2012). Whether transformative or inspirational, factual or fictional, sad or happy, personal stories are about one’s feelings, ideas and perceptions about events. Combined, individual stories become the story of a people or a group, helping us understand the world. For example, the beautiful “story cloths” of Hmong women (pictured right) depict a story of collective trauma, representing these women’s experiences during the Vietnam War and their flight to Thai refugee camps.
“Storytellers tell many different types of tales: myths, legends and folktales (from many cultures), fairy tales, true tales, tall tales, old tales, new tales, funny tales, sad tales, and anything in between.”
Creating Unity & Inspiring Action
Our stories are powerful organizing forces that helps to connect people despite their cultural differences. They are the “basis for history, art, religion, politics, philosophy, and more, reflecting the ways in which we are uniquely separate, while revealing our interconnectedness” (Blanch, Filson, Penney & Cave, 2012). In this sense, storytelling is also the foundation upon which the movement to end gender-based violence has been built and sustained. The stories of survivors and advocates are the very threads that weave together our movement – at the local, state and national levels.
While storytelling, in and by itself, cannot solve the complex problem of gender-based violence, the telling and hearing of these stories play a critical role in promoting cultural transformation and propelling social change. For individual survivors – those who are ready and able to share their stories – storytelling can be an important part of healing from trauma (Story Center, n.d.; Herman, 1997). But in addition to helping trauma survivors organize and reclaim control of their own experiences, storytelling has the power to deepen people’s understanding of gender-based violence. As survivors and advocates tell their stories, they raise awareness of the issue, shedding light on its magnitude, the societal barriers survivors and their children face when accessing help, and opportunities to strengthen services and support for those in need. Storytelling can be valuable in expanding narrowly conceived notions of what victims “are like” (Roeder, 2015). It can also help connect survivors in important ways to the larger intervention and prevention efforts in their community and across the country, as well as help make shifts in system responses and policies to better meet survivors’ needs (NRCDV, 2011).
Listening thoughtfully to the accounts of survivors and advocates can be a powerful way for all of us to stand with others in their pain and healing, struggles and triumphs. In this sense, the “trauma story” works not only to heal the survivor, “but also to teach and guide the listener – and by extension, society – in healing and survival” (Mollica, 2006). Hearing directly from survivors about their experiences and the impact of violence on their lives can inspire and energize others to act. “Sharing personal stories can communicate that it is possible to move beyond the circumstances of one’s life. It sends a message of hope: If you can, I can!” (Blanch, Filson, Penney & Cave, 2012).
The Power of Marginalized Voices
Whether shared across dinner tables or in a conference room, via visual arts or spoken word poetry, stories from survivors and advocates can help create unity and inspire action, bringing individuals together to confront gender-based violence and other forms of oppression. Of particular importance in advancing our social justice work is creating space for and amplifying the voices of individuals from traditionally marginalized and oppressed groups, including Native Americans and people of color, non-English speakers, immigrants, Muslims, incarcerated survivors, Deaf people, people who are trans-identified, gender non-conforming, lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and people living with disabilities.
Because the history found in textbooks, mainstream media and “official records” is predominantly the narration of the dominant group – told by white, affluent, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied voices – historically, storytelling has been a powerful tool for marginalized groups in naming their struggles, seeking healing and fostering social change and justice. For example, storytelling has been an integral part of the history of people of African descent. As Vanessa Jackson states: “From the griots of ancient African to the sometimes painful lyrics of hip-hop artists, people of African descent have known that our lives and our stories must be spoken, over and over again, so that the people will know our truth” (Jackson, n.d.).
Not only is storytelling effective in transforming stories of victimhood and oppression into stories of survival and inspiration for collective action, storytelling is also a tool that is accessible to everyone. As storyteller Rivka Willick reminds us, if we can communicate on whatever level, then we can tell a story. She also notes that we do not always have to look for our most dramatic or powerful story to tell: “Sometimes a very small story is tremendous and exactly what we need” (Willick, n.d.).
“(…) the telling of our stories enables us to name our pain, our suffering and to seek healing.”
– bell hooks, Sisters of the Yam (1993)

Supporting Your Storytelling Efforts
As we lift up and honor the voices of survivors and advocates through storytelling, a variety of tools are available to support our efforts. StoryCenter supports individuals and organizations in using storytelling and participatory media for reflection, education and social change, offering case studies, articles, workshops and more. Mid-Island Storytellers – a British Columbia-based group promoting the art of traditional storytelling in oral form – offers helpful tips, including The ABCs of Storytelling, to nurture and inspire new and seasoned storytellers. A recorded webinar series is also available from Move to End Violence shedding light on the ways in which storytelling can support our efforts towards racial justice and liberation.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou
Still, we know that telling one’s story is often difficult, especially for trauma survivors. “Women who wish to make their stories of violation and abuse public are often met with retraumatizing reactions such as blame and doubt, rather than empathy and belief” (Roeder, 2015). Thoughtfully planning for survivors’ safety and overall wellbeing as they tell their stories is critical. For survivors considering sharing their story with the public, the guides From the Front of the Room (available in English, Spanish and Arabic) and Speaking out from Within provide guidance to help maximize physical and emotional safety and ensure their overall success in speaking engagements. Resources to support advocates and survivors in talking to the media are also available (Preparing for a TV or Talk Radio Interview, Things to Consider Before Accepting an Interview Request and Media Tips for Survivors).
“Sometimes a very small story is tremendous and exactly what we need.” Rivka Willick
Join Us!
This October, join us for a series of events and activities highlighting the power of storytelling as a strategy for raising awareness and inspiring change. During the National Call of Unity: Why I’m an Advocate, speakers will offer their perspectives on the power of advocacy to create social transformation and will share their personal stories of inspiration to do this work. The Storytelling for Social Change webinar will introduce best practices for trauma-informed storytelling to help build program capacity to incorporate storytelling into prevention and awareness-raising efforts during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and beyond. Stories of Transformation Podcast Release Party: Why I’m an Advocate and/or Why I Became an Advocate will feature the personal stories of advocates representing various roles and sectors. Follow us on social media and share your inspiration at #ImAnAdvocate to help shed light on what advocacy looks like across roles, disciplines, and social change movements.
 “Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
– Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried (1998) 

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Building Strong Support for LGBT Older Adults (June 15, 2017)

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is recognized annually on June 15th. Since its inception in 2006, communities throughout the country and around the world have used this day to increase the visibility of elder abuse by raising awareness about abuse, neglect, and exploitation in later life and promoting the resources and services that work to increase victim safety and improve offender accountability.


#TeenDVMonth 2017: The Power of Youth Activism

Young people have the power to change our world. They can; they will; they do. Youth activism has propelled social justice movements throughout history, and today we are seeing youth taking on more issues than ever, employing a variety of creative strategies to accomplish real change.



Awareness + Action = Social Change: How a bold and courageous social justice approach can help heal and re-energize our movement

This October, the Domestic Violence Awareness Project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) is building upon conversations from 2015 around Awareness + Action = Social Change by offering key awareness activities and action steps for propelling us forward together.



Let’s Talk About Elder Abuse: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15, 2016

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) was established by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations on June 15, 2006. WEAAD’s goal is to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.




Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month 2016: Empowered Youth on the Margins

This February, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence is committed to bringing the experiences and needs of teens from marginalized communities to the forefront and lifting up the amazing social justice work of youth leaders on the margins. These young people (namely, Native youth, immigrants and teens in communities of color, teens with disabilities, teens who identify as LGBTQ, teens who are low-income, runaway or homeless, among others) have unique experiences and their voices are critical to any meaningful conversation about preventing and responding to dating violence and to our overall goal of creating safe and healthy communities.



Awareness + Action = Social Change: Why racial justice matters in the prevention equation

En español: Conocimiento Social + Acción = Cambio Social: Por qué es importante incluir la justicia racial como parte de la ecuación de prevención (Casa de Esperanza)

Domestic violence is preventable! This October, the Domestic Violence Awareness Project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence seeks to foster healthy families and communities by encouraging all of us to be part of the equation Awareness + Action = Social Change. This concept originated from the Transforming Communities: Technical Assistance, Training, and Resource Center (TC-TAT), providing leadership in prevention since 1997. Awareness + Action = Social Change is a framework that offers an opportunity to engage in critical conversations about what Action looks like.



Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month 2015: Promoting Youth Leadership

During Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and throughout the year, it is important to highlight the role that youth leadership has played as an effective strategy in the prevention of teen dating abuse. Research shows that young people are disproportionately impacted by partner violence, with more than 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men experiencing some form of intimate partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age (CDC, 2011). When dealing with issues that directly affect their lives, it only makes sense that young people are meaningfully included in the planning and implementation of solutions. Teens, therefore, are best positioned to inform adults about the abuse that is impacting their lives and about effective strategies for promoting healthy relationships.



National Runaway Prevention Month 2014: Piecing it all Together

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away every year (Hammer, Finkelhor & Sedlak, 2002). This figure is staggering, yet the problem seems invisible. When a youth runs away, the impact is felt throughout the entire community. Statistics from The National Runaway Safeline show that the majority (29%) of callers identify family dynamics (divorce, remarriage, step/blended families, problems with family rules, discipline, or problems with siblings) and abuse as the reason for their call. Often kids run away from home to remove themselves from an immediately painful situation, but they have no plans or resources for what to do next.



The Link between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), several domestic violence shelter programs across the country will be observing National SAF-T Day, held annually on the first Saturday in October. This national event originated in 2010 as an opportunity for shelters to host a local dog walk or other community event to raise funds to start or sustain an on-site pet housing program and awareness regarding the co-occurrence between animal abuse and domestic violence.

Why is such an initiative so important? Advocates have learned that abusive partners often use the bond between victims and their companion animals to control, manipulate, and isolate their victims. Research indicates that 20 to 65% of domestic violence victims delay leaving a dangerous situation because they don’t know where to place or how to protect their pets. Some survivors return because they fear for the animals’ safety (NRCDV, 2014).



Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month Logo

Every year, approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner. It is also known that 3 in 4 parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence. In light of these alarming facts, every year during the month of February advocates join efforts to raise awareness about dating violence, highlight promising practices, and encourage communities to get involved.

There are many resources available to provide information and support to victims and assist service providers and communities to decrease the prevalence of dating violence among young people. Anyone can make this happen by raising awareness about the issue, saying something about abuse when you see it and organizing your community to make a difference. Take Action!



Universal Prayer2013 National Call of Unity

Did you miss the Call of Unity? A recording of the session can be heard via this link with messages from national leaders, survivors, and advocates, and the dual-voice spoken word poems of ClimbingPoeTREE. The 4th Annual National Call of Unity Summary (Storify) includes links to the inspiring resources that were shared including poetry, prayer, stories, and words of gratitude and hope. View and download the Universal Prayer for use at your October 2013 DVAM Events and beyond!




Focus on Elders for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day – June 15th

Everyone knows and cares about an older person at some point in their lives; many of us throughout our entire lives—whether that person is a grandparent, an elderly parent, a mentor or coach, or an older person that has been influential to us in some way. Unfortunately, statistics show that one in ten people age 60 and older are victimized by elder abuse.

The Administration on Aging (AoA) defines elder abuse as any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Please read on (by clicking the link above) for ways to increase your awareness of this crime and determine ways you can be involved in preventing its occurrence.




National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Organized by the Office on Women’s Health, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the US Department of Health and Human ServicesNational Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, held annually on March 10th, seeks to raise awareness of the disease’s impact on women and girls, and empower people with the knowledge and tools to make a difference. Listed after the jump are several ways you can be a part of these efforts in your community, state, across the nation, and around the world!





Everyone is impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault either directly or indirectly, but many do not realize it. Now is the time to change that. Our goal this year is to teach men, youth, women — everyone within our communities — how to recognize domestic violence and offer support to speak openly about it.

This year we are joining others in saying NO MORE. Learn more below about the NO MORE CAMPAIGN and key International Public Awareness Campaigns addressing gender-based violence.




International Public Awareness Campaigns that Address Violence Against Women

Every year, UN Women: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women join with Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. 16 Days of Activism begins on November 25 and continues through December 10 to raise awareness of this devastating issue that knows no bounds and to inspire action to end this pervasive human rights violation across the globe. Their website contains a global policy agenda, activist stories and videos demonstrating the work of their grantees, and 16 Ways to Say NO to Violence Against Women Action Steps.