the art of survivors of violence against women

By N.A.V.

My favorite part about art is that it is more than just a poem on paper, spoken words in the air, or a simple picture on a canvas. Art is activism. Even when it was created because of imagination or created for a method of healing,

art is activism. 

The Definitions (according to the United Nations)

  • Violence Against Women: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
  • Intimate Partner Violence: “behavior by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviors.”
  • Sexual Violence: “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. It includes rape, defined as the physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus with a penis, other body part or object.”

The Statistics (according the the UN Women)

  • 1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, most of which is committed by an intimate partner
  •  Women affected are twice as likely to develop depression and 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV
  • Less than 40% of women seek any help, including friends and family. Of those who do seek help, less than 10% report to the police

Iris De Anda is a writer, poet, spoken word artist, and activist. Her spoken word poem “The Porch Lights Out” describes the pain that survivors of domestic violence experience, but also the witnessing of domestic violence by the children of those survivors. “The Porch Lights Out” explains the “silent reasoning” that allows a survivor to stay with someone who abused them, that reasoning being it is an act of “care.” Too often victims of sexual violence and domestic violence find themselves quickly forgiving and staying with their abuser because the violent acts against them were acts of “love” or “care.”


Roua Aljied, also known as Philosi-fire, is a biomedical engineering student who has became a spoken word artist. She advocates for basic human rights as an activist (Matteis). “Looking Over Her Shoulder” is a poem that addresses sexual assault in many ways. It begins by addressing the fear of being attacked. It addresses the myth that only women who dress provocatively are raped and assaulted by alluding to the story of a woman who was assaulted when she was only seven years old. The poem addresses how as a society we claim to live in a world of progression, but still when there is an article on a rape or assault, it addresses things such as their age and profession, and even the clothing they were wearing, rather than addressing the trauma that occurred.




The photos above were taken at an silent demonstration by V-Day at UCLA in front of Royce Hall at UCLA on February 2nd, 2016. The silent demonstration brought awareness to sexual assault, as well as supported survivors. The demonstrators, blindfolded and mouths taped shut, held their arms out allowing people to draw hearts on their arms, and even allowing survivors to hug them. I consider the demonstration art, not because of the photos taken above, but rather because of the words and hearts written on the people transforming them into living human art. The blindfolds and duck tape on the demonstrators, although described to make it more comfortable for participants and to show how survivors consent was taken from them, also represent the silenced factor most survivors feel (Chiang).



You wanted me to speak
But you chose my words.
You wanted me to speak
But weren’t there to listen.

They didn’t want me to speak
They didn’t want my words
They didn’t want my memories
They didn’t want my voice.

They held my voice
They mangled it in my throat.
They didn’t want me to speak.
You wanted me to speak.

I didn’t want to speak.
I wanted to yell.
But their hands so strong
“I can’t breathe
I can’t think
I can’t speak”
I thought over and over again
From when he shoved himself in
From when he raped again and again
From when they told me I didn’t know
From when they told me I was weak
From when they asked me if I did this often.

If I spoke out after regretting a one night stand
If I spoke out because of cultural differences
If I spoke out because of language barriers
If I spoke out, they told me I was wrong.

For every doubt ever given
For every story not believed
For every survivor that’s silenced
For every victim re-traumatized
For every fear in my mind
For every nightmare of him
For every HIV test I’ll take
For every tear I won’t get back
For every panic attack I’ll have,
This I do for me.

You wanted me to speak.
They wanted me silent.
But I wanted to yell.
And so I will.
I’ll yell.

The poem above, “Speak,” also describes sexual assault, in particular rape. It begins with the description of the survivor feeling like they didn’t have a choice in speaking, like that choice was inherently taken from her. This choice could be a reference to her choice being taken away during the rape or the choice of pressing charges being pushed on to her. She continues to describe how “they” didn’t want her to speak and how “they” tried to tell her she was “wrong” because of various reasons. Although “they” is not defined, this could relate to the police, friends or family that did not believe her, or even other people that silenced her. “Speak” touches on the post-trauma experiences, such as fears and nightmares, but also panic attacks which are common for survivors to experience after a trauma. Lastly, the artist describes reclaiming her voice by yelling out, more than just speaking out.



Sources (in order of use)

  1. “Violence against Women.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  2. “Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women.” UN Women. UN Women, Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  3. De Anda, Iris. “About Me – Iris De Anda.” Iris De Anda. Iris De Anda, 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  4. Matteis, Stephanie. “Ottawa Biomed Student Roua Aljied Turns to Slam Poetry – CBC Arts.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 18 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
  5. Chiang, Yong Yi. “PLEASE DRAW A HEART ON MY ARM: A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE.” FEM. Fem Magazine, 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  6. Neha. “Speak.” Remember to Live. WordPress, 21 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

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