Exhibit tells stories of domestic abuse

by Dawn Throener

Standing in a room next to the Silent Witnesses, an exhibit she helped create, Patricia Weaver Francisco’s voice choked as she read aloud from her new book on Friday in Coffman Union.
“Telling: A Memoir of Rape and Recovery,” came about as a result of the Silent Witnesses Program, involving an exhibit of 27 life-size wooden figures. Painted red, with gold shields over their hearts telling their life and death stories, the women depicted died from domestic violence in Minnesota in 1990.
“The exhibit is heart-wrenchingly sad,” said Meredith Johnson, a student at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul. She came to the University just to see the exhibit, which was created by the Arts Action Against Domestic Violence.
Francisco, co-founder of the program and a victim of rape, became involved in the project after reading about the growing number of domestic assaults in Minnesota.
She realized that these women had died and that there was no one to tell their stories — and the program’s founders were not going to let anyone forget them.
“(The exhibit) makes you look at your own life,” said Ingrid Bredeson, another student from St. Catherine’s. She added that she was motivated to think about the way people in her life react to abuse.
Although not a victim of domestic violence, Francisco was drawn to the Silent Witness movement. It was her first step toward realizing the power of making something invisible become visible.
“Somehow, putting those two moments together, I realized I had told these women’s stories but I hadn’t told my own,” she said. “And it was, in fact, a story that needed to be told. I want to do for rape what I had done for domestic violence,” Francisco said.
This realization led her to write her story. It is a chronicle of Francisco’s rape and spans fifteen years.
Francisco, who said she was busy keeping silent, was only able to begin writing the book in the mid-1990s — a decade after her rape. She added that it was surprising to her and her friends how long it took to repair the different kinds of damage.
“Rape is a deep wound –spiritual, physical, psychological,” Francisco said. “It takes many years to make the many repairs.”
According to Francisco, the good news is that at the end of the day, one can have a happy life with rape; it becomes a part of the self and does not dominate the consciousness. But it is a very long road with many layers.
In writing this book, she wanted to start dinner table conversations about rape. “I’m hungry for those conversations myself,” she said. “I wrote the book so that I could get the conversation.”
People expect talking about it to be difficult, Francisco said, and while talking about rape is difficult, it is also energizing.
“Every time someone tells me their story, I’m less alone,” Francisco said. “Every time someone tells me they feel less alone because of the book, I feel gratified.”
This gratification comes from victims who have recovered enough to share their experience, but in order to share, others must be willing to listen.
And the courage to listen to the victims’ story is vital, Francisco said. Making available time to talk about the abuse, takes away feelings of aloneness many victims experience.
“This is something you don’t recover from alone,” Francisco said.