Acts of Impact

How 'Silent No Longer Tennessee' Empowers Survivors of Sexual Violence Through Creative Expression

November 03, 2022 Nicholas Hill Season 1 Episode 30
How 'Silent No Longer Tennessee' Empowers Survivors of Sexual Violence Through Creative Expression
Acts of Impact
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Acts of Impact
How 'Silent No Longer Tennessee' Empowers Survivors of Sexual Violence Through Creative Expression
Nov 03, 2022 Season 1 Episode 30
Nicholas Hill

Today we interview Greta McClain. Greta is Executive Director of Silent No Longer Tennessee, a non-profit organization empowering survivors of sexual assault to share their story in creative and powerful ways.   We’ll talk about the challenges faced by these survivors, the support that Silent No Longer Tennessee provides, and how the entire community is involved in the effort to end sexual violence.

To support Silent No Longer Tennessee and discover more ways to help, visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Greta and the Silent No Longer Tennessee team. Music by Alex Grohls.

Show Notes Transcript

Today we interview Greta McClain. Greta is Executive Director of Silent No Longer Tennessee, a non-profit organization empowering survivors of sexual assault to share their story in creative and powerful ways.   We’ll talk about the challenges faced by these survivors, the support that Silent No Longer Tennessee provides, and how the entire community is involved in the effort to end sexual violence.

To support Silent No Longer Tennessee and discover more ways to help, visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Greta and the Silent No Longer Tennessee team. Music by Alex Grohls.

Nicholas Hill  0:00  
You're listening to acts of impact the show where we interview those who are making a positive difference in the world around us. I'm your host, Nicholas Hill, and today's guest is Greta McClain. Greta is executive director of Silent No Longer Tennessee, a nonprofit organization, empowering survivors of sexual assault, to share their story in creative and powerful ways. We'll talk about the challenges faced by the survivors. The support that Silent No Longer Tennessee provides, and how the entire community is involved in the effort to end sexual violence. Let's get started.

Greta, welcome to the show. 

Greta McClain  0:52  
Hi, thank you very much. I'm happy to be here.

Nicholas Hill  0:55  
We're certainly happy to have you here, Greta, and I'm excited to learn from you today. I know that Silent No Longer Tennessee was a little bit unique in that it was founded by survivors of sexual violence. I was wondering if you could tell us that story. What is the history of Silent No Longer Tennessee? How did it come together?

Greta McClain  1:19  
It came together. Initially, in February of 2018, I was sexually assaulted in 2017. And after dealing with all that, and learning a lot, I decided to start the organization as a grassroots, all volunteer group. From there, we continued to see the need of programs and services that weren't readily available, like creative expression and art therapy and things like that. So that's why we decided to apply for 501 C three nonprofit status last year, and just received at the beginning of this year. So we're really excited about it.

Nicholas Hill  2:03  
And you mentioned that specifically, one of the things you saw missing in the programs that were available, was the provision of kind of creative artistic expression. Can you dive into that a little bit? What does that mean to you? What does that kind of phrase mean?

Greta McClain  2:23  
To me, creative expression means anything, anything creative, it can be art, visual art, it can be painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, pottery, anything like that. It can also be verbal or written like poetry, monologues, things like that. But it also includes dance, especially, but you know, interpretive dance, music, anything that's creative, to me is is therapeutic people have their own things that they're drawn to. I'm drawn to writing. And so that's kind of my outlet. But other people like being tactile, they may like sculpture, or or modeling or clay and things like that. Some prefer, you know, music is their thing. So we try to provide outlets for everybody's tastes and what they feel most comfortable with.

Nicholas Hill  3:26  
Do you find that providing people the means to express what's happened to them and process in a way that they're most comfortable with, has led to better engagement, better connection between the members of the groups that participate?

Greta McClain  3:46  
Most definitely, for me, the first time that I told my story, I literally told my story. And it was only it was less than a year after my rate. So it was very difficult. But luckily, I was in a safe, safe space. It was actually part of Women's March, they had a call me to caucus. So I was surrounded by people I knew who understood, but a lot of people are terrified of public speaking in general. And having to speak about something like that in front of, you know, people is even more terrifying. So we wanted to offer storytelling in other forms. People have their different likes and dislikes and whatever we can do to provide survivors an opportunity to share their story if they want to, in whatever medium is comfortable for them. That's what we want to do.

Nicholas Hill  4:44  
I want to step back for just a moment and think a little bit about some of the challenges that are surrounding this issue. When we think about the challenges that a victim of sexual assault faces What are some of the things that come to mind or that you've seen in your work?

Greta McClain  5:04  
Sadly, there's still a lot of victim blaming, you would think that we've come would have come past that over the decades, or even millennium. But we haven't, we still have a lot of the same stereotypes. Well, if you hadn't have worn this, or if you hadn't been here, but the analogy that I like to use is if somebody gets their house broken into, we don't blame them, because they didn't purchase a burglar alarm. So why are we blaming sexual assault victims? So that's the biggest thing. A lot of them are just afraid that people won't believe them. You know, I was a former police officer. And it never occurred to me that I could be sexually assaulted. Even though I wasn't still on the job. I had the training and all that. And I was terrified, people wouldn't believe me, well, a lot of other people are just as terrified. Another thing is that they don't know exactly how to initiate the conversation. In some communities, especially communities of color, it's not something that's readily talked about African American clients have told me over and over, it's it, we don't talk about it. It's just we deal with it and go on, and we don't talk about it. Same with the Latino community, I've had several people tell me it's not something that's that's disgust, so they don't know where to go. And you know how to seek help. Another thing that that I see all too often, is the fact that victims aren't necessarily treated the same way, based on their skin color, their ethnicity, gender, identity, or sexual orientation, when they go to seek help, if they are transgender, the nurses don't necessarily know what to call them. And I've asked people around the country that oversee the program this, they call them saying it's sexual assault nurse, examiner, and they, when they do the exam for it, they aren't necessarily sure exactly how to address the person. And that makes, you know, they've already been raped. And now, they the pronouns aren't right. So that's an issue that we're trying to address. Another thing is, if they're a person of color, they may not get the same resource referrals. So that's something that we hear all too often. And same with law enforcement. You know, during my career in law enforcement, I saw some officers that would be more likely to kind of dismiss and assume somebody was lying, because of the color of their skin, or because they were homeless. So there's still a whole lot of barriers to getting quality service and people reporting, only about a third, about 30% of sexual assaults are actually reported to law enforcement. So when you see numbers, you know, if it says 80, or 90,000, over the year, you're gonna times that by at least three. So there's a whole lot more assaults out there than then what we know about.

Nicholas Hill  8:17  
So it sounds like if I'm understanding correctly, this is a problem that affects different women in different ways. The solutions that are being offered are affecting people with different levels of effectiveness, some of them are not working at all, some of them are working a little bit, but it can depend on whether you're a person of color or whether you're trans or a number of various items. And then ultimately, we have law enforcement, who is doing what they can, but sometimes there is inherent bias. There's also under reporting. So this sounds like an incredibly multifaceted problem. That is, I would imagine very difficult to tackle. However, some of the what are some of the ways that silent no longer Tennessee has begun to tackle that we talked about creative expression, and how that is important for survivors. What are some of the programs or workshops that you take part in to help out?

Greta McClain  9:23  
One of the things that we're doing isn't as it's a project more than a program, but in doing research on what we're calling concepts of justice, where we're interviewing people and putting out surveys on what people consider as justice? Most people if they say that they have never experienced sexual assault, their idea of justice as the person getting arrested, you know, going to trial going to jail. The ones that identify as survivors, it's being listened to being believed, treated with dignity. So that's one of the things that we're really trying to look at and develop a comprehensive program so that we can help teach, hopefully, if they will allow it law enforcement, judicial system that traditionally, you know, we think of, yeah, they go to jail for what they did. That's not necessarily what the victims and survivors want. Definitely, we want to get people off the street that are sexual predators. But we also have to do it in a compassionate way where the victims are more comfortable reporting it, and where they don't feel like they're being re victimized over and over during the process. The other thing that we're looking at is we're doing a documentary right now, we had some of our clients that are wanting to actually tell their stories in front of the camera. And as part of that, not only will they have the opportunity to share their stories, we're also interviewing people from the criminal justice system, the court system, medical professionals, faith communities, a variety of different places, to see what some of the new best practices are, and to help educate the community about the issues that I've been talking about. I think, once we can better educate people, then we're more likely to be able to get better procedures and policies in place that better serve the victims. And even even the perpetrators, you know, I unfortunately, have not done all the research to know how often you are able to, to rehabilitate somebody who's who's, you know, does sex crimes. But there's got to be better ways than what we're doing. Because all too often it's the same person perpetrating them. So that's something that we definitely want to look at and make the community aware of, as well as letting them know that sexual assault impacts us, whether we have ourselves have been sexually assaulted, whether we know somebody who has or whether we don't, for several reasons. First, survivors are 13 times more likely to at least attempt suicide. Oftentimes, somebody who is having a mental health crisis, the first person that's called is law enforcement. So you have a law enforcement officer that's going to be caught up, usually for several hours. So the your neighborhood doesn't have the normal presence there, you're usually going to have an ambulance that's tied up. And if there's a crime going on, it's going to take longer for law enforcement to get there to assist you. On top of that, $70,000 are lost in productivity for businesses, if somebody has been sexually assaulted. That's over $30 billion. That impacts all of us on a daily basis. So it does impact us, whether we realize it or not. And that's something that we want people to understand.

Nicholas Hill  13:11  
So it sounds like this is a problem that is infectious, it is infecting everything around it, whether you're directly impacted or indirectly impacted. It's something that your organization is looking to address more proactively, so that we can prevent getting to the point where we need those emergency resources. We're wanting to get in front of those survivors faster and provide them with better support. Is that right?

Greta McClain  13:41  
Absolutely. Absolutely. And some of the other things that we're looking at that we haven't started yet, but we want to implement is equine therapy. A lot of people that I've talked to who've been through it says it's very empowering because the you know, horses can beat they're large, they're muscular, and they can be intimidating. But once you get up there and kind of get over the fear and and feel like you have control, it's incredibly empowering, and healing. And that's one thing that survivors need. One thing that we all have to remember is that somebody who has been sexually assaulted has had total control over their body taken away from them. And it's essential for them to start regaining even the slightest bit of control as quickly as possible. And that can be just as something as simple as instead of saying, hey, I'll go with you to the hospital or I'll go with you, the police department to make a report. If they haven't said they want to go to the hospital or they haven't said that they want to report it. Don't mention it, because it can feel to them. Like you're saying this is what you need to do. You're trying to be helpful, but it can feel like they're being told what to do. So just sit and listen. into them or just sit, you know, they may just sit there and cry or just stare at the wall for an hour, but let them and their time process what's happened and then make their own decisions and support them in that decisions. And, again, the horses, that's a sense of control, once you realize I can control, you know, this large animal that is very empowering and healing for them. Another thing that we want to do is get them trained as emotional support dog trainers, you know, we'll provide them the training and pay for them to train the dogs. And that way, survivors who need an emotional support animal can receive that animal for free. And it also gives us survivors who learn how to be trainers, it gives them an additional skill. So whether, you know, if they've been having trouble, you know, finding a job, they have skills to do that, if they're just wanting a second income, because so many people nowadays are working two or three jobs and still can barely, you know, make ends meet, that is another income that they can do that can help keep them stable. So we're trying to look at it primarily to provide them programs and services directly related to their salt, but anything that we can put in there, that also helps them with education, with workplace development, you know, training, that's going to help improve their lives all around, then that's what we want to do.

Nicholas Hill  16:29  
This is such an incredible program that you're describing, I can see it being beneficial in like six different ways. You're talking about training, service animals, which obviously has its own inherent benefits to society, and the people that those animals go on to help. But then you're also talking about the provision of some of the service animals to the survivors that need them. You're talking about providing that element of professional kind of development and control for some of the survivors that are able to train and help these dogs become service animals. So it's really just a lot of benefit from one program, I can see that I know that silent no longer Tennessee also does some training and some workshops, what are some of the topics that you train and who are some of the audiences there?

Greta McClain  17:23  
We provide several one of them that we do for businesses in some organizations is sexual harassment training, we also do what we call sexual assault one on one, which gives some of the basics. There are people that don't necessarily understand exactly what sexual violence is. It's not only just rape, it can be sexual harassment, it can be fondling, there's there's a lot of different components to it. So we try to educate people about that. Another one is bystander intervention, how to safely intervene, if you see somebody that may be in danger, whether it's sexual harassment or sexual assault, and we try to focus on campuses, college campuses, if they don't already have a program. We're lucky here in Middle Tennessee, most of the campuses do have a very active training program. But there's some that don't. So you know, we want to we want to work with that. And we're trying to get into some of the high schools as well to to provide that training so that they know how to not only maybe keep their friends safe, but keep themselves safe as well. Those are the ones that we get asked about most of the time,

Nicholas Hill  18:40  
between all of these different areas where providing safe spaces for creative expression, we're doing the training and the workshops, we're helping with the research and all of these other projects, the documentary that you're creating, I'd love to hear maybe just a story that comes to mind for you, where you really felt that your work was was being impactful, maybe a success story or just a metric that stands out. Is there anything that comes to mind for you there Greta,

Greta McClain  19:10  
the most recent one is on the 15th of this October, we had a event called voices behind the hashtag, and it had paintings and collages done by our clients that depicted their story. But we also had some poetry readings. And one of the the women who did a poetry reading I met her back in September October of 2018. And to see where she was then very nervous, very shy, very anxious, understandably, to where she was on the 15th and confidently getting up there and sharing her story. In such a powerful and calm and strong way was So it was amazing, it was probably one of the best experiences I've had, because I saw her so long ago not doing well. And to see the confident, empowered woman that she is being able to inspire others just made me realize that yeah, this is why we do the work and is definitely needed and worth it.

Nicholas Hill  20:22  
I would imagine, based on what we talked about earlier, where you said that control and power being taken away, to see someone then really fill the room with their own power and their own confidence and their own voice. I imagine that's quite incredible.

Greta McClain  20:40  
It was, it was absolutely incredible. And she did. I mean, she had everyone captivated. And she was standing up their voice strong, standing tall and sharing it and it was, you know, I was like a proud mama or so, you know, I was just amazed and so proud. And we've had others that have that have done similar, but that's the most recent. And that's why that's why we do the work.

Nicholas Hill  21:10  
I want to just finished today, Greta by asking what can people do to help if someone is listening, and they want to get involved with silent no longer Tennessee directly or to support your mission? And cause what can people do?

Greta McClain  21:27  
We have several different opportunities. Now a lot of them are virtual, we have opportunities for people to be liaisons, which means between the African American community, the indigenous community, different faith communities, disabled communities. And basically what that is, is just reaching out to that particular community, listening to them, and seeing what their needs are, and helping to educate us how best we can serve them. And then they let us know, so that we can develop different programs, different workshops, different outreach events, that meets the needs, that they are requesting other things, our social media ambassadors, which, you know, is fairly easy. Other things, again, virtual, helping to find sponsorships or you know, donors, things like that a lot, some of the development stuff. Also, you know, if you're not interested in being a full time volunteer, even a part time volunteer, just if you have an extra couple bucks, donate it because you know, 10 people donate $2 Hey, we can last a march applies with that, you know, so every, every penny counts, anybody that's interested, please contact us. And I'll be happy to let you know what the opportunities are. We have sponsorship opportunities for the movie, for the documentary. So I'm happy to send all that information to anybody. And if you just need some guidance, which we will have done several times, if you need guidance to maybe start a similar organization, email us happy to send you the information, happy to hop on Zoom or whatever, and kind of let you know how we've progressed. And we started this so that you can start one in your own state because personally, I think that, you know, we should have organizations like this that provide creative expression throughout the United States. Because I've seen the good that it does. So anybody that's interested in that I'm more than happy to help.

Nicholas Hill  23:41  
Greta I just want to say thank you for volunteering your time today to talk with us. And absolutely for the work that silent no longer Tennessee is doing for the survivors. I know that I'll continue to follow your work and I wish your organization the most success for the rest of the year.

Greta McClain  24:00  
Thank you so much. And again, thank you for the opportunity to be on I really appreciate it.

Nicholas Hill  24:18  
Today's show was directed and produced by me with music from Alex Grohl special thanks to our guests for their time and insight. If you like today's episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts and consider leaving a review as it will help us to spread the word about the show. You can view more information about today's episode online at acts of Thank you for listening