Youthful images unmask sexualized violence

‘Most people are abused by someone they know. “In this room, I was.” The caption was scrawled in red and black marker across a…

‘Most people are abused by someone they know.

“In this room, I was.”

The caption was scrawled in red and black marker across a photo taken by Felicia Gordon.

The 18-year-old’s picture is part of Out of the Dark and Onto the Streets — a youth photo exhibit documenting sexualized violence in the Yukon.

“I went through something with a family member I thought I could trust,” said Gordon.

“And when it’s family, you don’t want to accept it.

“Lots of people stay silent.”

This exhibit is about raising awareness, said Gordon.

“I hope this opens peoples’ minds that assault and abuse happens here.

“Because it needs to be talked about.

“And I hope a lot more people who haven’t spoken and who are hurting will come out and stop being in the dark.”

The exhibit came out of a 10-week program for youth interested in photography, and was spearheaded by the Women’s Directorate.

“Young people ran it and facilitators coached,” said Skyward Outreach Services counsellor Mark Kelly.

When Christina Kuntz talked to her peers about the sexualized violence project, many laughed.

“They said: ‘That’s not me,’” said the 15 year old.

“But what if it was?”

Since she was little, Kuntz has been hearing stories about kids being raped by men who offered them rides home, she said.

One of the most creative ways of reaching out to young people is through young people, said Women’s Directorate Minister Elaine Taylor, who attended the opening on Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s important for leaders to raise awareness, but it’s also important that youth have the opportunity to talk about issues with their colleagues and counterparts.”

In one photo, a pair of cut and scarred arms reach out for another set of hands.

Eighteen-year-old Vanessa Waugh shot the image, and it’s one of her favourites.

“That person’s been through a lot of pain, and they’re finally reaching out,” she said.

“It’s hard to portray feelings, but when you see something like that you know it’s real.”

In the Elijah Smith building lobby the young photographers milled around the exhibit discussing their work with the public.

They talked candidly about sexual abuse and violence.

“I’m not afraid to talk about my experiences anymore,” said Gordon.

“Talking about it makes it easier.”

In the territory, the incidence of sexualized violence is high, she said.

“There’s a long history of abuse and assault that’s passed on from generation to generation.

“But if we stop this chain, we can let future youth walk into a healthy tomorrow.”

Many people choose to ignore the problem, said Gordon.

They try not to think about it, or pretend it doesn’t happen here.

“But it shouldn’t be brushed aside,” she said.

“Homelessness and sexual assault are linked together. And there should be more programs in place.

“Future youth coming into this world should get something better.”

All of these young people have done amazing work, said Kaushee’s Place facilitator Renee Carrier.

“But they also have become advocates and activists.

“It’s an amazing process — coming out of the dark and onto the streets.”

There are plans in the works to tour the exhibit to Yukon communities and around Whitehorse.

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