Award-Winning Playwright on Channeling Trauma into Art and Healing

Each month, RAINN highlights a member of its National Leadership Council. The NLC is a group of dedicated individuals who have shown their commitment to RAINN’s mission of supporting survivors and ending sexual violence.

This month, RAINN’s Christy Rozek checked in with award-winning playwright, author, showrunner, filmmaker, and producer Katori Hall. Her work includes West End, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, The Hot Wing King, The Mountaintop, Hurt Village, and P-Valley.

What is the unique role that film, television, and theater play in educating the public about vital issues, such as sexual violence?

 

Stories can be mirrors, and I have seen the power of a story well told on an unsuspecting audience. A reckoning can happen in a black box theatre or on a living room couch within the soul.

It is rare to see stories about sexual violence told with brute honesty yet sensitivity. Some can feel gratuitous, salacious even included more for shock value than for truthful and deep exploration that can illuminate such a harrowing act and make it understandable.

At their best, the inclusion and careful execution of these stories create empathy for survivors and a pathway towards understanding as to why these things happen from the perpetrator’s perspective — monsters can look like angels and that’s the scariest part about this type of violence. It is uncomfortable and necessary to keep telling these stories in order to understand and hopefully prevent.

How has your passion for ending sexual violence influenced your creative work?

I think for me, my passion comes from being a survivor myself. The experience tattoos itself on the mind and heart. It shakes you, reshapes you, sometimes breaks you.

It is from the shards of experience that as an artist you make your art and tell the stories, if not for yourself, then for many like you. One cannot help but to dip your pen in the pond of lived experience and heal yourself and hopefully others in the process. It took me years to fuse life into pretend, but that’s what gives a story its power.

I am unafraid of telling those hard truths in all of my stories as I myself have been healed by the act of being seen and feeling heard.

What do we need to do as a country to prevent sexual violence?

I remember growing up down south and there being this cone of silence surrounding anything related to my body and sexual experience. Both boys and girls are made to feel ashamed of the things that make us human.

Unfortunately, that shame can feel like a weight to young women, pulling us beneath already troubled waters this society drowns us all in. We are repeatedly told, we do not matter. When we live in a world where a woman is assumed to be less than a man, we think we can do whatever we want to them and their bodies.

But it all starts with affirming worth, not giving worth, women are already worthy. Sexual violence is a symptom of a pervasive stubborn habit of devaluing women, but that value requires we give women equal access to education, equal compensation for equal work, and a justice system that demands accountability and not the performance of it.

How can we all be better supporters and advocates for survivors in our lives?

I think it starts first by understanding that you are surrounded by more survivors than you think. There is an assumption that we are walking around as broken battered down women, that we are easy to spot. It starts with understanding how pervasive sexual violence is, and that it starts with a thought, that is expressed as a joke, that becomes a “p***y grab” that can destroy a woman’s will.

We must cut it off at the knees and demand accountability, most importantly in the moment and in everyday interactions of life. Just like white folx must help fix racism more so than black folx, men have to show up and show out and stand up against the possibility of violence itself. Learning to destroy the seeds instead of bearing the fruit.

What is your message to survivors?

Your scars are stories that are worthy of being told.

The rape kit backlog is currently one of the biggest obstacles to prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence.

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Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported to the police.

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