From the Newsroom

The power of art: from victim to survivor

On Sunday morning June 27, 35 sexual assault victims and supporters donned black and white clothing and lay upon the ground, together, to declare they were no longer victims, but survivors reclaiming what had been stolen from them.

These people, about a third of whom were men, had responded to 17-year-old HSC student Ember Edie’s invitation to participate in the creation of her major visual art work – her concept: Your voice is worth hearing, becoming a survivor of sexual assault.

“My vision for today is to capture the collective experience of survivors and supporters uniting together to create the fire rose unity symbol,” she said in her speech on the day.

“The symbol was designed in 2016 by Jacqueline T Lin and Lady Gaga … it is inspired by the loops of our DNA structure and the universal infinity sign; the final image embraces a fiery shape to give all survivors power and strength.”

High School Certificate student, Ember Edie speaking at the Maclean showground: “My vision for today is to capture the collective experience of survivors and supporters uniting together to create the fire rose unity symbol.”

“…I was a victim of sexual assault at the age of 14 by someone I knew since I was five.

“My journey has been a painfully long road with many ups and downs – dealing with depression, self-blame, fear, worthlessness, anxiety, anger, trust issues and PTSD.”

The Independent met with Ember after the event.

Sexual assault victims and survivors are organised to form a living fire rose unity symbol. Images: Contributed.

“It’s very easy to call yourself a victim,” she says, “and I wanted to let others know that they can change their thoughts and actually become a survivor and reclaim their strength.

“I wanted to reach out to other survivors within our community to acknowledge that they have a voice, as well, [because] by myself I didn’t feel like I had a voice in our community.

“I was really inspired by Grace Tame, our Australian of the Year, because she is a woman who had the power and [courage] to speak out about her story.”

Grace Tame won a supreme court exemption in 2019, which allowed her to talk about her sexual assaults – previously, Tasmania’s Evidence Act forbade sexual assault victims from speaking about their experiences – and her case was a catalyst for the #LetHerSpeak campaign in Tasmania, which was created by journalist and sexual assault survivor Nina Funnell.

“Art has always been a way to express my voice and what I was feeling,” says Ember.

“I’ve used art as a form of communication when I didn’t feel like I had the words to say them out loud.

“Grace Tame’s speech confirmed I wanted to speak out and help others in the community.”

However, before Grace Tame was announced 2021 Australian of the Year, Ember was already taking action to reclaim what had been stolen from her.

“I got a tattoo once I turned 16, which is the survivor tattoo … to demonstrate that I was a survivor, and I was okay with that now.

“I took a picture of my tattoo after I got it and posted a brief story on Instagram about why I got the tattoo and my transforming from victim to survivor.

“A lot of my friends, who didn’t realise [what had happened to me], came up to me at school … and I actually had a couple of people reach out to me and tell me their story in response.

“They were grateful for me having a voice, [and] that allowed them to have a voice, even if it was just sharing with me.”

Ember says the people who showed their allegiance to her cause at the showground “exceeded [her] expectations”.

“Everyone was really supportive, and I captured the image of everyone uniting, everyone supporting the survivors.”

However, throughout Ember’s emergence from a burden she should never have had to bear, a new, affirming relationship played a significant role in her healing.

“To help me through my process of becoming a survivor,” she said at the showground, “I felt I needed a companionship with no judgement and only endless love.

“One of my best therapies has been from my companion Ora, my dog for the past three years.”

Now, an anti-Covid mask is the only one Ember has to wear, rather than the invisible one she used to wear “every day for everyone else while pretending to be okay”.