Della Pollock’s introduction of her “Oral History Performance” piece has a lot of powerful content. Perhaps it was because I had just watched last week’s episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit right before I read her article, but the entire time I was reading I thought of how sexual assault victims’ testimonies could be considered examples of oral histories. In the particular episode of L&O: SVU, called “True Believers,” a young woman was sexually assaulted in her apartment by a stranger. Her rape crisis counselor was essentially advising her not to take the case to court, telling her that her chances of getting a conviction were not very high. However, the show’s lead detective, Olivia Benson, encouraged her to proceed with the case. Ultimately, the accused man was found not-guilty and the victim was furious screaming at Detective Benson, “Don’t you dare tell me that was worth it!” Detective Benson tries to calm her down by telling her that she didn’t let him get away with it, that she accused him in public. She told her “healing begins when someone bears witness; I saw you, I believe you.”
I think this situation exemplifies the quote from Slim and Thompson that Pollock includes in her article on the first page, that it ensures that “those who have given up their time to talk, know that their words have been taken seriously.” Many times rape victims are able to begin their healing process by sharing their story with others, and that others listened. I also heard the testimony of a fellow UNC student at the SpeakOut! event hosted by UNC’s Project Dinah about a month ago about her first-hand encounter of sexual assault. Her story was an oral history; she provided us with her story and we shared her pain. Her story caused us to imagine “what might be, could be, should be” – in this case, a campus without any sexual assault (Pollock 2). We then have the “response-ability” as listeners to the oral history by acting on it, even if we just told her story again to others so that they could share in its meaning and become aware of the problem of sexual assault in the community.
Here is a link to the episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (fast forward to 39 minutes and 10 seconds in to see the dialogue I’m referring to):
Here is a link to the Project Dinah Facebook page: