The Pixel Project is proud to present our third annual Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project in honour of Mother’s Day 2016. The annual campaign runs throughout the month of May 2016 and features an interview per day with a survivor of any form of violence against women (VAW) including domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, forced/child marriage, sex trafficking, breast ironing etc. A total of 31 VAW survivor stories will be featured. This campaign was created to provide:
- VAW survivors a platform to share their stories and solutions/ideas on how they rebuilt their lives and healed/are healing.
- Girls and women currently experiencing or who have survived VAW ideas, hope, and inspiration to escape the violence and know that there is light at the tunnel and there is help out there.
Our fifteenth 2016 Survivor Stories interview is with Leslie Ann Epperson from the USA.
The Survivor Bio:
Leslie Ann Epperson is an Emmy Award winning director and creator of Many Bones, One Heart, an independent documentary feature. She began her documentary career at WILL-TV, PBS, producing documentary programs for distribution to nationwide PBS affiliates. Epperson went on to direct a nationally distributed science magazine series for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. PBS affiliate KUAT TV, PBS, engaged her to produce segments for Arizona Illustrated, a nightly news magazine, and to produce In the Field of Time, which was distributed to PBS affiliates, and Divine Mission: San Xavier del Bac, about the restoration of a 300-year-old church, which received five Rocky Mountain Region Emmy Awards and was broadcast by the PBS network. Epperson’s films reside in library collections throughout the United States.
1. What is your personal experience with gender-based violence?
I was frequently physically punished by my father after my mother died when I was 12. I hooked up with a man similar to my father when I was 18 and we later married.
My husband was an alcoholic, and when drinking, he hit me a few times, but the primary form of abuse was verbal and emotional. He stopped the physical abuse after sobering up, but he continued to sabotage my self-worth, and demanded that I support him financially while continuing to be emotionally cruel.
I found solace in work and making art, and kept myself very busy.
2. How did you escape the violent situation/relationship/ritual?
I was in a car accident while my then husband was in school studying veterinary medicine. He began stealing the pain medications I was prescribed for injuries. I caught him and began locking my medicine in a safe. Shortly thereafter, he began stealing pain medication from the teaching hospital where he was enrolled. I caught him shooting up narcotics twice. Combined with his growing surliness and the emergence of ever greater cruelty gave me reason to leave for good, after 27 long years.
3. How did you heal and rebuild your life after the violent situation/relationship/ritual? What actions did you take?
I was physically injured by the car accident and emotionally shattered. I made art to express my feelings, and for several years I just took it a day at a time. I sought out counselling and after being informed by my ex’s psychiatrist that my ex had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I researched the hallmarks of that disease. Understanding that he was sick helped me.
At first I had struggled hard to understand how he could treat me the way he did and I felt in some ways that it was my own fault. When I realised I would never understand it—that I am not like him – I began to find some peace. I am now helping a friend who has had a similar married experience to be okay with leaving and taking care of herself.
My friends and family are helpful to me as well because they do not yell at me, or try to hurt me or twist my words and way of being to suit their needs. I know that is how it should be, and if I have to be without a spouse or lover to stay safe and sane, well, that is okay!
4. What would you suggest to or share with another woman or girl facing the same situation as you did?
I suggest counselling, being with friends, letting the tears fall when they need to. And if asked, I freely share that I had to leave, and that I am forever grateful to my counsellor and his psychiatrist for helping me understand that he was never going to change.
I talk to my friend who is separating from her abusive partner quite a bit, and I reassure her that she can get through this, that she will find a new sense of herself with time and with the willingness to be open to her feelings and learn from what has happened. I find that letting her just talk without trying to fix her does wonders.
So I guess my suggestion is keep your good friends close, let them help you. I tell my friend that although I am sometimes lonely, I am not frightened or hurt or confused anymore. I can handle a little loneliness, and I think most of that loneliness comes from comparing myself to the image of the “ideal woman” which is a married woman with a family, money, etc. That is not my fate but my life is beautiful if I pay attention to today.
5. How do you think we can end violence against women?
There is much that has to change. Women have been hurt because men are physically stronger and can get away with it, which is terrible and must stop. It must be stopped wherever it is seen. Women need much greater protection and care from police and laws.
Education is key. We must teach our children to respect all of life, human and otherwise, and learn to care for ourselves, each other, and our world in equal measure. It is a spiritual journey, and I think humanity is on the right path, even though it often seems too slow. Much has changed in my lifetime—and much remains to be transformed. We must teach children that love really is the answer, and that violence never works. Violence only begets more of the same.
Education, compassion, and service are necessary. Gentleness and humility should be something we all try to cultivate in ourselves. The false gods of money, fame, control and domination just lead to more cruelty, more lost lives, more wars against each other, more grief, and more lost potential.
6. Why do you support The Pixel Project?
The Pixel Project’s anti-Violence Against Women campaigns combine the power of social media and the internet with pop culture and the arts to raise awareness and educate people worldwide about violence against women. As an artist and filmmaker, I believe that literature, films and art provide the cultural bridges needed for us to be better to each other. Art helps us cultivate tolerance and kindness, for when we empathise with a character in a film or book, we are open to learning something new about a different person with a life experience unlike our own.
With empathy and compassion, we develop greater tolerance, greater willingness to share our world and our selves with one another. Art is the best path to peace that I know of. I have been a journalist, too, and pointed out injustice in my work, but I find that for me, confrontation with problems is painful—but creating stories that bring people to a richer understanding of the “other” gives me peace and even joy. I seek to inspire the best in a viewer, for I believe inspiration moves us to a higher ground of being.