On October 3rd 2022, myself and Dr Nicola Holt from UWE published the findings of our 3 year evaluation into running arts interventions with women who have experienced sexual violence. 41 women took part in the workshops and shared their experiences with us.
“A very safe place for the silenced to discover their voice through creativity and friendship”
This evaluation report describes the methodology and effectiveness of the series of trauma informed art workshops, specifically designed to support the wellbeing of people who have experienced sexual violence. The workshops were run through Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS; www.sarsas.org.uk), led by socially engaged artist Pippa Grace (OneStory; www.one-story.co.uk) and evaluated by Drs Nicola Holt and Emma Halliwell from the University of the West of England. Very sadly Dr Emma Halliwell, who was fundamental in setting up the partnership, died a year before the report came out. The report is dedicated to her memory and was published on the anniversary of her death.
“Being around with a group of people who understand each other without having to explain anything. That’s really helped.”
The statistics about sexual violence are shockingly high, and the impact of sexual violence can be severe and long lasting. The World Health Organisation (WHO; 2013) estimated that one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) or non-partner sexual violence (NPSV) in their lifetime. IPV and NPSV are associated with significant health outcomes, immediate and long-term, including increased rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, phobias, gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and alcohol use disorders (WHO, 2013; Bacchus et al., 2018; Jina & Thomas, 2013; Stöckl H et al., 2021).
“Being able to express myself in an artistic way has been wonderful in this time. I have created what I would consider to be some very dark or intense work at this time and being able to release the emotions in that way has been so important to me.”
The evaluation report outcomes suggested that the art-based interventions were effective at improving the wellbeing of participants. During art workshops participants’ anxiety and loneliness decreased, while happiness and alertness increased. A thematic analysis resulted in three themes, indicating that participants felt a special bond with others in the group with whom they felt a sense of understanding and of being understood (‘Social Connection’); this safe space allowed opportunities to relax, explore art and become absorbed in the process of making (‘Time for Self-care’). Through this process participants described a new sense of identity, feeling empowered, confident and creative (‘New Identities’).
“It has reconnected me with what matters in the world and developed a sense of where I want to go: occupationally, with my home and relationships. The programme has helped me build up being me through the power of shared creativity across a period of time.”
The qualitative data suggests that multiple and wide-ranging benefits have arisen from these programmes of creative workshops. The holistic nature of Pippa’s trauma informed approach to running the workshops is one that encourages the healing potential of each individual in all its facets, potentially leading to multiple benefits. It is not a prescriptive ‘one method suits all’ approach, but rather is honed to support each individual’s unique creative, healing journey within a supportive group setting, meeting people wherever they are currently at. The non- judgmental, playful approach, within a safely held space, allows each individual to develop their agency and a sense of freedom and potential. This was illustrated through participants’ quotes focusing on the lack of judgement in the ‘safe space’, such as: “a calm, quiet, free speech, free emotion place with no judgement. You can be who you are when you walk through the door and that was OK. A safe space where you can be yourself and not be judged”.
“The workshops have boosted my self-esteem and given me bravery to try new things.”