Safe World for Women Logo

Free Reeyot

Grassroots Voices

Bukanda-Isaac-2

Grassroots Men and Children Speak Out - Women's Empowerment is Progress for All!

“COFAPRI is truly giving power to our wives, daughters, and our sisters and girls in our villages here. This helps them primarily, but it also helps us all with our families." - Bukanda Isaac, DR Congo.

Featured

Wurrie-Kenda

Children's Education in Sierra Leone - Overcoming Challenges

Wurrie Kenda has grown up in Kroo Bay without any education. She is now at the Community School and is learning quickly. It is children like Wurrie that make WYCF's school such a special place....

Appeal

DRC-empowerment

Empowering Survivors in DR Congo

Help Safe World Field Partner, COFAPRI, to support rape survivors and their children in the mountain villages of Eastern DR Congo.

World News

Frederic Kazigwemo served time in jail for killing several people in 1994 | Photo: Benjamin Duerr/Al Jazeera

Rwanda genocide survivors back reconciliation

Mbyo is a Reconciliation Village, located one hour's drive from the capital of Kigali. Murderers and survivors of the Rwandan genocide, are neighbors. Attempting to rebuild the country.
Caroline Murphy

UK Heiress walks away from fortune after rift over her plans to turn firm into a co-operative

UK
I have been vocal in my belief that leadership of this business must include those working on the ground if it is to continue to deliver for the clients who have placed their trust in us over the years.
IWMF-logo-3

International Women's Media Foundation: 'Protect Confidentiality of Sources'

IWMF (International Women's Media Foundation) urges the Supreme Court to recognize journalists' protection against compelled disclosure of confidential sources...
Pari Gul

The Afghan policewomen taking on the Taliban

The tiny but growing number of policewomen in Afghanistan not only risk death in the line of duty, they also face personal attack from extremists, and bigotry within the ranks

Field Partner News

Shalom-education

Starting Young - Teaching Children's Rights in Tanzania

We promote Child Rights Clubs in schools, covering issues such as child marriage, FGM, domestic violence, disabilities, street children.... Last year, 7000 children participated...

Alliance News

fly-sister-fly

Partnering for advocacy in rural Kenya

Pastoralist Child Foundation and the Fly Sister Fly Foundation partnered for an advocacy campaign in Samburu County. They held interactive sessions on early marriages, FGM/C, and challenges girls face in the pastoral nomadic community.

Burden of Silence: The Abused women of Alaska

Donna EriksonDonna Erikson

Burden of Silence: The Abused Women of Alaska

Source: Al Jazeera | Witness | Film by Tod Lending

One in three Native American women will experience sexual abuse at some point in their lifetime. That is more than twice the national average.

And for the women of Alaska, the US state with the highest incidence of rape, the situation is particularly bleak.

Donna Erikson is a Native Alaskan woman and a survivor of sexual abuse. She, and those who share this devastating history, are now embracing the transformative power of lifting the burden of silence within their community by speaking out about sexual assault.

In Burden of Silence we hear her story and see, through the work of a Native Alaskan state trooper, the challenging reality of law enforcement for a crime that is so frequently hushed up by victim and victimiser alike.

The Filmmaker - Tod Lending

As a director, there are those stories you develop because you have a passion for the issue and the people you are filming.

Then there are those stories that you develop because they have come to you as an assignment.

This latest film, Burden of Silence, came to me as the latter. Some assignments stay an assignment, but others become your passion. Fortunately, Burden of Silence evolved from an assignment into a passion.

At the outset I had my trepidations about taking on this assignment. The assignment was to develop a story that would look at the issue of sexual abuse among Native American Indian populations because they have the highest rates of abuse in the country.

In 1992, I was on assignment for Oprah Winfrey's company, Harpo Studios, researching and developing one of the segments for an ABC Afterschool Special documentary that focused on young peoples' perspectives on racism. We were looking at the issue from every imaginable angle and one of the stories was about how Native American Indian youth were experiencing racism on the Lone Pine Reservation in South Dakota.

It was one of the most difficult assignments I had ever undertaken because of the cultural and psychological barriers I had to try to penetrate in order to get young people on the reservation to talk about their experiences. It was considered culturally inappropriate - a sign of weakness - to talk about one's problems, fears, wounds and pain. And because I am white, there was little to no trust from the start. So when I accepted the assignment to look at sexual abuse among Native American Indian populations I had serious concerns about access.

My first step was to focus on the Native American culture but from a part of the country that has not been explored much from a documentary perspective. Alaska, as a state, also faces the highest rates of sexual abuse, a fact that most people are unaware of. I then hired my good friend and colleague, Bhagyashree RaoRane, to co-produce. She is a wonderful woman from India who I knew would have the best chance of establishing a rapport with the women we were going to film. I decided it would be best for Bhagyashree to conduct the interviews because she is female, non-Western and multi-cultural, and she has had her own personal experiences with sexual abuse. Moreover, she is a very smart young lady and a wonderful interviewer. My role was to shoot the film and direct.

It was not easy to reach people because of how remote most of the villages are and also because it was the summer when most people are performing subsistence activities like hunting and fishing out in the wilderness so that they will have food for the winter. We also had to jump through some hoops with the Alaska State Troopers office in order to gain access to one of their female troopers who we wanted to include in the film. When people, especially those in a law enforcement agency, hear that you are doing a project for Al Jazeera, more than a few eyebrows are raised. But somehow we won their trust and they provided us with full access to Trooper Anne Sears, a Native Alaskan who is one of the women in our film. 

The warmth and openness that we received from the people we decided to profile was remarkable. This experience was the complete opposite of what I had experienced at Lone Pine. We met women who wanted to tell us their stories of pain and healing, sometimes stories that they had never shared before.

The Eskimo people are much more open and accepting of outsiders. Rather than seek ways to be more isolated, we felt they were looking for ways to connect with outsiders - even a white guy like myself! We were also fortunate to be introduced to the women we interviewed by other women they trusted. It was through this chain of one woman knowing and trusting another that we were offered access to the hearts and souls of the women we interviewed.

Unlike my other films, Burden of Silence is a film driven by interview material and the willingness of people to openly discuss their experiences. We relied heavily on our subjects to tell compelling stories of their abuse and road to healing. Through their stories we provided an insight not only into the emotional and psychological experience of sexual abuse, but, just as importantly, into the cultural and social reasons why sexual abuse is so prevalent in their families and communities.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a problem that is prevalent throughout the world. Our first hope is that Burden of Silence will open the doors for Native American Indian communities to discuss a topic that is painful and very stigmatised. Secondly, we hope this film will catalyse discussion and open debate, exploration and reflection among women, men and teens from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.