Audiovisual Dignity Healing Testimony Model

Ara Pacis Initiatives For Peace has developed an interdisciplinary audiovisual testimony model that responds to the three key demands of  victims of sexual and other forms of extreme violence: acknowledgment, justice and healing.

The model is a practical and innovative synthesis of some of the most effective local and international experiences in the collection of oral history, legal testimony and trauma healing.  It is a functional and rapid response model for addressing the primary needs / demands of victims and of the activists who assist them.

It can be dynamically informed and transformed according to specific realities as well as original insights, experiences and intuitions of on-the-ground practitioners in order to ensure local applicability and maximum effectiveness.

The Modules

Simple to transmit and easily replicable, the model provides synergic modules for activists in:

  • collection of legal elements
  • collection of spontaneous testimonies offered by perpetrators
  • collection of oral history interviews
  • trauma healing,
  • audiovisual collection of testimonies,
  • Storage and security of the collected materials.

It aims to

  • give victims a sense of empowerment, healing and  justice,
  • instill a culture of accountability,
  • promote a personal and social perception of victims as survivors, heroes/heroines, teachers and oral historians,
  • stimulate the journey from victim to survivor to activist,
  • contribute to building a collective memory that works against the suppression and falsification of history,
  • create a collective consciousness that condemns, rather than accepts, human rights abuses in order to prevent the recurrence of the violations which have taken place in the past.

Private and Public Video Testimonies

Audiovisual recordings as per the model’s guidelines are of two natures: private and public.

Private – for healing purposes: the full testimony is filmed. The video is later reviewed by the victim and edited according to her indications.  The story is then screened in a ceremony to honor  the victim,  in front of her family and community,  or in a private setting and finally returned, as a gift,  to the custody of the victim .

Private – for judicial purposes:  The integral version of the video can be made available for legal purposes if this is the victim’s will.

Public – for advocacy, healing and memory archiving: the audio only recording of the testimony serves two purposes – for oral history transcriptions and for the “artistic” rendering of  the story.  In this version, the image of the victim never appears.  She/he works with the filmmaker in selecting the images that narrate her/his story.  The sound track is also chosen by the victim. This public version of the testimony can be used for advocacy campaigns and can later be included in memory and healing archives.

Guidelines and training modules for the audiovisual dignity healing model  have been developed in collaboration with:

Healing Testimony:  Dr. Inger Agger, Associate of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) and licensed clinical psychologist. Agger has done extensive research on trauma, memory and healing in the context of organized violence and is the author of The Blue Room: Trauma and Testimony Among Refugee Women (1994), and Trauma and Healing Under State Terrorism (1996, with S.B. Jensen).

Oral History Interviews: Prof. Alessandro Portelli, one of the most influential and exciting oral historians in the world. His prize-winning books on oral history and popular memory include The order has already been carried out: history, memory and meaning of a Nazi massacre in Rome and The death of Luigi Trastulli: form and meaning in oral history.

Filming and Editing:  Alberto Bougleux: independent filmmaker and co-founder of ZaLab a Rome based film company which organizes participatory video and documentary workshops in intercultural contexts and situations of geographical and social marginalization. He has designed the Visual Memory Archive for the Algerian Disappeared and is author, among others, of the documentaries: El Retratista, (Spanish Civil War) , My name is Aden ( Somalia),  Song for Amine ( state terrorism in Algeria), Souvenir Srebrenica (Bosnia Herzegovina).

Collection of judicial elements:  Antonietta Confalonieri , an international jurist specialized in the protection of human rights and in the prevention and contrast of violence against women and domestic violence – very active with regards to the protection of victims of “trafficking”, “stalking” and sexual exploitation.

The Dignity framework: Dr. Donna Hicks, political psychologist, Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. For nine years, Deputy Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and consultant to the British Broadcasting Company where she co-facilitated encounters between victims and perpetrators of the Northern Ireland conflict with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Author of the book, Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Resolving Conflict.

Research, Coordination and Final Guidelines: Maria Nicoletta Gaida, president of the Ara Pacis Initiative.

A six person team of Libyan activists: journalists, film makers, psychiatrists and medical doctors assembled by the Libyan NGO Observatory on Gender in Crisis.

The model was shaped and inspired by the works of:

Dori Laub M.D,  Deputy director for Trauma Research at the Yale Genocide Studies Program. Founder of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony

Stevan Weine M.D, Director of UIC’s International Center on Responses to Catastrophes, author of “Testimony after Catastrophe: Narrating the Traumas of Political Violence

Judith Herman M.D, professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School and Director of Training at the Victims of Violence Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a founding member of the Women’s Mental Health Collective, author of Trauma and Recovery the aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror

Richard Mollica M.D, Director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT) of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Author of Healing Invisible Wounds:  Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World

Elizabeth Lira,  Chile’s leading human rights psychologist and director of the Centro de Ética at the Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Chile. Lira founded Testimonial Therapy with her world famous article (written with the Chilean psychiatrist Eugenia Weinstein) under pseudonyms and published in 1983 in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry: Cienfuegos & Monelli: The testimony of political repression as a therapeutic instrument. Among her other publications are: “Psicoterapia y represión política” (co authored with Eugenia Weinstein); “Trauma, duelo y reparación” (co authored with Eugenia Weinstein); “Psicología de la amenaza política y del miedo” and (co authored with María Isabel Castillo). She is a member of the Consejo Consultivo Internacional del Centro de Memoria Histórica de Colombia.

Innovative challenges of the model include:

How to film “absence” as the victims, in the public version of the testimony, cannot be identified

Can the poetic filming and musical accompaniment of the trauma narrative, realized in collaboration with the victim, allow for the sublimation of the deep and dark horror and pain? Can this help overcome the trauma?

Can an artistic medium contribute to a positive reframing of the traumatic experience and therefore contribute to healing?

Another innovative challenge is the video testimony of perpetrators who may not want to testify for legal reasons but may want to contribute to an understanding of the crime and explain their motives – for spiritual, psychological or historical concerns.

Recent evidence gathered by Harvard’s Dara Kay Cohen, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, suggests that with regard to war time rape a new paradigm is necessary. Conventional wisdom points to the sudden breakdown of government, primordial ethnic hatreds, or even patriarchal society. But a closer look  tells a different story. Misconceptions abound. Cohen’s findings suggest we need to move beyond a moral diagnosis of perpetrators as social deviants. Instead, we should try to understand how group dynamics and context can sometimes make otherwise rational people commit terrible atrocities.

How we think about the causes of wartime rape matters. By focusing early warning mechanisms to look for indicators of rape, we might stand a better chance of preventing these horrible crimes in the first place—or at least intervening more quickly.

Greater attention must therefore be focused on the narratives of perpetrators if the mechanisms which lie behind these crimes are to be understood.

Audiovisual memory, history, healing and learning archive

We at Ara Pacis are working on the development of an audio visual memory, healing and learning archive model. This interactive web archive will provide historical and scientific context to the public testimonies and allow for “living history” by providing the possibility for those who will gain access to the archive, to contribute with details as well as elaborate and provide fresh contextual and historic accounts. The archive will also allow for open or concealed identity sharing of testimonies. This aspect will be the object of a specific study: can a virtual memory archive activate a mirror reaction and activate healing processes in those who access it? If so, how can these new paths to healing be harnessed and developed?

To have more information about our workshops, email us [email protected]
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