In recognition of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children, Heartlines, the Centre for Values Promotion, is calling for all people living in South Africa to tell their stories of violence - not just the victims, but the perpetrators themselves and members of the community.
"Violence is not a one-sided social problem. Resolving and preventing it requires an approach that engages all people involved, be it directly or indirectly," says Garth Japhet, founder of the social change NGO.
"Addressing violence through storytelling is not easy, especially within a society that often assigns blame to victims of domestic and sexual abuse."
Personal stories are often used to help people cope with grief, stress and trauma. They can be used as metaphors and examples of larger societal problems and concerns; "Stories not only transfer knowledge, they can change behaviour and become a tool for positive change," says Japhet.
Heartlines uses storytelling because of its role in building understanding, addressing social divides and promoting values such as empathy, responsibility and forgiveness.
“Stories can inspire both action and acceptance, particularly when they engage and involve the people who listen to them. They ignite empathy and imagination and are often remembered and retold. Storytelling in itself can be a healing experience," says Japhet.
Bringing more and more South Africans into conversation around violence and the values that counter it, Heartlines produces storytelling resources for schools, campuses, workplaces, churches and inmates in prison.
"Providing perpetrators with a platform to tell their stories is not about excusing or explaining their behaviour - it promotes the action of taking responsibility and reflecting on the impact of one’s behaviour, likewise giving a victim the opportunity to share their story can help them with their healing process," says Japhet.
Telling a personal story of violence requires one to be vulnerable - whether it is told by a victim, perpetrator or representatives of a community.
"During 16 Days, we talk about intimate partner and domestic violence. Violence negates intimacy, while authentic and honest storytelling slowly builds it up. Heartlines believes that getting to understand one another’s stories is key to overcoming the cycle of abuse," says Japhet.
A collection of stories of individuals who have survived violence and abuse, as well as perpetrators who have enacted it and community members who have witnessed it, can be viewed online at Heartlines' campaign portal.
Do you have a story to tell? Share your story with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Should you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know.