Escape: Stories of Survivors

May 15 2024.

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Today on the Buzz I speak to the team who has put together this amazing project ESCAPE - STORIES OF SURVIVORS which will showcase some very dark and painful real stories to give light to what’s really happening around us. Directed by Radhika Ranaweera, and written and produced by Angelo Perera - it’s a production you don’t want to miss on June 4th & 9th at 7:30 PM at the Lionel Wendt Theatre.

TELL ME WHY YOU WANTED TO EXPRESS THIS MESSAGE VIA THEATRE. This is the second AFP time Escape will be staged. The first time it was staged, it had a groundbreaking impact. It got so many people talking and even members of parliament approached us, asking us to confirm if what they saw was the truth as they couldn’t believe it. All this time, for years, we have been using traditional methods to educate key stakeholders and the general public on the exact picture of where things are in terms of Sri Lanka and child sexual abuse, but it was clear to us that those methods were not effective as stand-alone methods.

The fact that, after years of telling people the stories and the numbers, they still asked us after the play if this was true. This was a clear indicator that this method was far more effective. So we still have to do our advocacy but Escape as an awareness tool has proven itself effective.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT SITUATION WHEN IT COMES TO CHILDREN AND ABUSE? The latest data is being compiled, however, at the time we started talking about restaging Escape, we gathered the following data which is presented in the following monologue form: In 2014, 1680 cases related to child sexual abuse were reported, out of which only 51 convictions were made. In 2015, 1723 cases were reported, out of which only 41 convictions were made. That’s about 2% of the caseload.

How encouraged are you today to know that if someone sexually abuses one of your children or siblings, there is only a 2% chance that justice will prevail? 1723 cases! That’s almost 5 a day! By the way, statistically less than 20% of actual child sexual abuse crimes get reported. The others are hushed up by family and friends. I mean how easy is it for one of you to report a family member to the police for such a thing? So if only 20% are being reported, that makes the actual number about 8,600 cases! That makes it almost 1 case of child sexual abuse every 90 minutes.

If we could consider this abuse a disease, this would be the level of a pandemic! The statistics did improve, but it's back on the rise. According to the Police Department, 1,500 rape cases including statutory rapes were reported in the first nine months of 2022, a significant increase from the first nine months of the previous year (2021). Of the 1,500 reported, over 13% of the rapes were perpetrated on adult females whereas 86.6% were cases of statutory rapes; that’s children. From all reported incidences of child abuse cases, sexual abuse at 41% is the highest occurring crime against children in 2022.

Other child abuse incidents that are high include child deaths at 14% (28 incidents). Of the 28 incidents of child deaths, 75% (21 incidents) were homicide and 14% (four incidents) were suicide. One child died due to medical negligence on the part of the State medical services, while 7% (two children) were sexually abused and murdered.

TELL ME HOW BEST CAN WE MAKE THIS TOPIC MORE REACHABLE. All the information and data on the subject are available with LEADS, however, support from volunteers to help them secure higher reach on social media platforms is essential. This entails distinguished personalities such as yourself making a statement and showing their involvement in this subject to make it a trend. It may sound like I’m selling the idea, but in today’s context, that’s what it takes. To make an idea trendy so that people would rally to support it.

ESCAPE - WHEN DID THIS CONCEPT COME TO LIFE?  The concept came to life in early 2017 when I was requested by LEADS to do a production on the subject of child sexual abuse, again a fundraiser, but to also spread awareness on the subject. Many ideas were thrown on the table, but in the end, I decided that the most impactful idea would be to dramatise a selection of true accounts of children who had experienced sexual abuse and their subsequent experiences in undergoing therapy and rehabilitation.

So a troupe of actors were gathered and rehearsed. The dramatisation was not able to give out enough information on the facts and figures without losing its theatrical effect, so the idea of key speakers being introduced to perform monologues which carried the facts and figures was adopted. The show was finally staged in September 2017 at the BMICH and Sooriya Village and the rest as we know is history.

WHEN IS THE EVENT PLANNED? AND DETAILS? The event is scheduled for the 4th and 9th June at 7:30 pm at the Lionel Wendt.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COLLABORATE WITH SPECIFIC ORGANISATIONS LIKE LEADS AND SEVALANKA FOUNDATION FOR THIS PRODUCTION? We believe that collaboration is key to addressing complex issues like child sexual abuse effectively. LEADS and Sevalanka Foundation have a strong track record of advocating for children’s rights and providing support to survivors of abuse. By partnering with them, we can leverage their expertise and resources to maximize the impact of our production and fundraising efforts.

CAN YOU SHARE ANY SPECIFIC CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED WHILE ORGANISING “ESCAPE” AND HOW YOU OVERCAME THEM? One of the main challenges we faced was ensuring the safety and well-being of the survivors whose stories were portrayed in the play. We took great care to create a supportive and respectful environment for them throughout the production process. This involved providing counselling services, ensuring their consent and confidentiality, and offering them opportunities to participate in decision-making. By prioritising the needs of the survivors, we were able to create a production that honours their experiences while raising awareness about the issue of child sexual abuse.

WHAT IMPACT DO YOU HOPE “ESCAPE” WILL HAVE ON AUDIENCES, BOTH LOCALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY? Our primary goal is to raise funds for 2,000 children affected by child sexual abuse who are in need of support to secure school supplies and uniforms for the upcoming school years. LEADS has graciously supported the children for the last school year, but it has become a challenge as there is no regular project to finance this. However, with this play, we hope to set up a regular project. We also aim to spark conversations about child sexual abuse and inspire action towards prevention and support. We hope that “ESCAPE” will raise awareness about the prevalence of abuse, challenge stigma and misconceptions, and encourage individuals to speak out and seek help. By sharing these powerful stories through theatre, we aim to foster empathy, understanding, and solidarity among audiences, both locally and internationally.

BEYOND THE THEATRICAL PRODUCTION, HOW DO YOU PLAN TO SUSTAIN THE MOMENTUM OF THE “ESCAPE” INITIATIVE IN THE LONG TERM? “ESCAPE” is just the beginning of our efforts to address child sexual abuse. We are committed to sustaining the momentum of this initiative through ongoing advocacy, education, and support services. This includes having more small-scale productions, YouTube broadcasts and short films, podcasts, and social media campaigns, producing educational materials, organising community workshops and events, collaborating with schools and youth organisations, and partnering with other stakeholders to advocate for policy changes and systemic reforms. Our goal is to create lasting change and ensure that every child can grow up in a safe and supportive environment. Following the production, there will be a 12-month campaign which will have multiple events in varied scales, depending on sponsors that come forward.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danu Innasithamby

Danu is a Jaffna Boy with a Marketing qualification (only because he needed to study, and not because he wanted it). He has been a part of the team for seven years and is the face behind Buzz with Danu, and WTF.


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