New project asks women to share questions they want to ask their abusers.
In the trailer for the documentary A Better Man, Attiya Khan sits at a table across from her ex-boyfriend.
“Had you ever been physically abusive to anyone before me?” she asks him.
“No,” he replies.
“Do you remember the frequency of the abuse?” He doesn’t.
Khan is a Toronto filmmaker. For two years in her adolescence, she was physically abused by her then-boyfriend.
When she ran into him in Toronto 20 years later, she asked whether he would talk to her on camera about what he had done to her. He agreed. Khan says he told her he wished he had been a better man.
The resulting film will premiere next year. It aims to address the root causes of violence against women.
“It’s important to me that people don’t view Steve as a monster,” Khan says in the trailer. “I just don’t think that helps. I wonder how much violence could be prevented, or lives saved, if we were able to get inside the head of the abuser.”
Last week, the team behind the film engaged women on social media and encouraged survivors of violence to tweet questions they’d ask their abuser if they had the opportunity, using the hashtag #ShareMyVoice.
“When you describe our relationship to other people, do you describe it as abusive?” one tweeted, while another asked, “Do you still truly believe that everything you said and did to me was my own fault or for my own good?”
The questions will be used in the creation of a companion project to the film, which will see the filmmakers talking to men who have committed intimate-partner violence and “who are going through their own process of accountability and healing,” says producer Christine Kleckner.
Following a successful Indiegogo campaign in 2014, Khan heard from many women who said they wished they could get answers from men who had hurt them. This interactive project is a response to that, Kleckner says.
“We were very focused on what healing dialogues look like, what those might be for survivors, and exploring alternatives forms of justice,” she says.
The number of women who participated in the chat was small—understandably, not all survivors are comfortable speaking out publicly.
“We respect that deeply,” Kleckner says. An online form is available for women who’d like to participate anonymously.
The campaign turns all-too-common victim-blaming on its head, according to Keetha Mercer, manager of violence prevention programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Instead of asking what a woman did to invite or deserve violence, this project asks why the assailant committed violence. It asks him to take responsibility for what he did.
Mercer says #ShareMyVoice is just one of many hashtags in recent years that have challenged long-standing myths about sexual assault, reporting to police, and victim behaviour. Others include #BeenRapedNeverReported, #WeBelieveSurvivors, and #WhyIStayed.
“I think it’s important for people to have these avenues to talk about their experience,” she says.
Assault is traumatic and women deal with it in different ways. Mercer believes we must challenge the idea of what it means to be a survivor of violence.
“Women need to feel empowered to make decisions about what will help them heal,” she says.
“Abuse is often about power and control, and a survivor may want to confront their abuser or, in the case of this campaign, to talk out loud or at least get a response from someone else about the violence they experienced, in order to regain power and control over their own lives.”
But the private contribution form offered by the A Better Man team is a good option to have, Mercer adds, because safety can be a concern.
How can people help support survivors? Challenge statements others make about women who are abused, and let women know it’s not their fault, Mercer says.
In the A Better Man trailer, Khan describes a scene, which occurred years ago, when she was running down the street, away from her ex, and a man in a truck pulled over to help.
“You don’t deserve this, you know,” he told her, and she was surprised. She didn’t know that.
“There is nothing better than remembering someone who intervened or spoke those important words,” she says.
On its website, the CWF offers resources and tips for learning how to recognize unhealthy relationships and for supporting people who are experiencing violence.