ShareThis Page
Health

Survivors draw comfort after abuse

| Monday, April 9, 2001

We whisper about the sexual abuse of children, if we acknowledge it at all.

Maybe words aren't the best way.

At Seton Hill College's Harlan Gallery, past a clothesline of colored, glitter-penned T-shirts, a new show of survivor art screams and pleads and finger-points. There are photographs of broken dolls. Collages of crying women. Gunky paint slashes the color of dried blood. And a white dress pressed into cement, a letter I, for incest, nailed to the breast.

'I see a lot of rage,' said Marilyn Jech, an abuse survivor who contributed several pieces. 'But I also see a lot of beauty in the work. It covers the hope of recovery, feelings for the future, for getting better.'

Jech, a Cleveland native, signs her work Mona Vrana, a combination of her maiden name and a nephew's nickname. She paints when she's angry.

'Instead of turning that on myself, or my children, or on other people, I can get it out in my art,' she said.

In the late 1940s, in schools, hospitals and psychiatric units, art teachers noticed that same benefit, and another: People who could not share their fears and frustrations verbally often could when they drew or painted.

Since then, art therapists have appeared in court, as expert witnesses, interpreting children's art. They helped with the healing process after the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake and the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.

In most cases, the art's aesthetic effect is irrelevant.

'The art that comes from the heart is difficult,' said Nina Denninger, director of the art therapy program at Seton Hill in Greensburg. 'It's very painful.'

As she talked, she lingered at some of the show's pieces: 'The Demon,' 'Rage,' 'Jennifer's Triumph.'

'I look at this, and I'm so grateful that people have this alternate way to get things out,' she said.

Denninger paired the survivor art with T-shirts from the Clothesline Project, a decade-old program that began in Massachusetts. It started with 31 shirts, all marked with messages from abuse survivors. Other women added their own shirts, and the line grew.

Several of the shirts at Seton Hill are torn. Most carry angry, often defiant, messages to the makers' abusers.

The exhibit will close April 22, after a two-day conference for educators, art therapists, health service specialists and mental health workers. Workshop topics will include the symptoms of child sexual abuse and effective intervention and treatment methods.

Cathy Malchiodi, an art therapist, author and director of the Institute of Arts and Health in Salt Lake City, will give the keynote address.

Survivor Art, an exhibit of works by survivors of childhood sexual abuse, will continue at the Harlan Gallery at Seton Hill College through April 22. The gallery is open from 5:30-8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 1-3 p.m. Fridays and from 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me