Performance brings awareness to the treatment of sexual assault victims

Heidi Gasser , Reporter

Downtown Bowling Green’s Novel Blends coffee shop partnered with the Cocoon last Sunday to host an event in observance of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

Two actors, Gabrielle Southwell and J. Heath Huber, performed the play “I Dream Before I Take a Stand” by Arlene Hutton to express the common dialogue that might happen between an assault survivor and someone who stands in the way of their pursuit of justice. Before acting, Southwell has experience as a federal judge and Huber has worked with the Cocoon and the BGSU Women’s Center. Both are passionate advocates against domestic violence. 

While the publisher listed the characters as a defense attorney and the victim, Huber wanted the audience to know that the traumatic conversation could be had in a number of different scenarios between different people in real life. 

“One of the things that you can’t see is that in the script, the characters are listed as “He” and “She” rather than the defense attorney and the victim. So therefore rather than this being a word for word course transcript, I like to think about this as a post expressionist view,” Huber said. “Because it’s a classic He said She said, not only could it be the defense attorney and the victim, it could be [the perpetrator] and the victim, it could be somebody on campus, when they hear about a sexual assault.” 

The play could represent an inner dialogue as well, in which the victim is retraumatized when they are made to question if they are at fault for their assault. The story followed that Southwell’s character had been walking through the park, when a male stranger said hello to her. She smiled and nodded, and kept walking. Soon after, she was grabbed by the man and then assaulted. Huber’s character harasses her in a thorough interrogation, accusing her of  wearing “sexy” matching underwear, her breasts being too visible and doing her hair and make up to look more attractive on purpose. 

Director Melissa Shaffer noted that while the audience may expect She to defend herself passionately against the absurd accusations, that it may be difficult when victims are gaslit into  blaming themselves. 

“Part of my reaction to it was that Gabrielle’s character would be very assertive, and just think that these questions are ridiculous. But then I was reminded by the Cocoon people that if a person has actually been assaulted, that they…start to doubt themselves,” Shaffer said. 

Audience member Nurdan Kalayci connected the procedures in her homeland, Turkey. Kalayci has done academic work through BGSU and the University of Toledo in Women’s Studies. She said that although thousands of women are killed and raped, that it is difficult for survivors to be taken seriously when they come forward, especially if they lack thre resources to do so. It shocked her to see that Americans suffered similarly.

“A similar dialogue [happens in Turkey]. ‘What kind of clothes, what kind of hair, what kind of lipstick? Similar,” Kalayci said. “If you are a woman [who] came from [a] lower socioeconomic level, it is really hard…[It was a surprise that] our countries [are going through] similar problems.” 

In the final moments of the piece, Gabrielle shrieked “NO!” at Huber, halting the conversation. Huber then paused for a minute before asking her if they could start over. When asked by an audience member if his character would have continued to harass the victim, Huber said that he didn’t think so. Huber expressed that in his portrayal, he wanted to express that change is possible.

“What I was intending for people to see, is someone who… had to change their beliefs because He listened to the experiences of other people,” Huber said. 

The Cocoon offers emotional, physical and financial support to survivors of domestic and sexual abuse year round. Their services can be accessed by calling 419-373-1730. Information concerning future events can be found on their website