Doctoral student explores therapeutic art

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Alaskan survivors of rape and sexual assault have created a gallery exhibit—The Heart of the Grizzly—with their stories and experiences. The exhibit will be on display in Wood Center starting April 7.

The Heart of the Grizzly was originally Danielle Giroux’s doctoral dissertation for the Clinical-Community Psychology program. Therapy for individuals who have experienced sexual violence is an area that is under-researched, which is part of the reason that Giroux chose this as her project.

“The process of healing takes time,” Giroux said. “Several participants spoke about that and giving yourself the time and being patient and gentle with yourself during that process.”

Giroux’s research is intended to review how effective therapy for survivors of sexual violence is with some of the unique challenges that living in Alaska has.

“If people go to the gallery I think they’ll see a lot of the ways that people make meaning,” Giroux said. “Even though it’s a terrible experience, people can still make meaning out of it that is meaningful and helpful to others.”

One of the take-aways for people who haven’t experienced sexual violence is that although the subject can be uncomfortable, it’s still important for people to not try avoiding the conversation if someone needs it, according to Giroux.

“What survivors are really needing from their friends and family and support system is to just listen and be open to the conversation,” Giroux said.

After the exhibit ends, the prints will be displayed in the resource and advocacy center.

The participants in Giroux’s study decided on the format of the exhibit at their last meeting together. The exhibit features several themes including, what rape and assault are, the healing process and ending with a vision of Alaska being healed of this issue.

“This is something that people seem to not want to admit exists in our society and yet it happens … more than we would want it to,” Giroux said.

Alaska’s rates of violence against women are among the highest in the nation— Alaska’s rate of rape is 2.5 times higher than the nation average. 47.6 percent of adult, Alaskan women have experienced violence and 37.1 percent have experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner, according to the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey.

The exhibit opens on April 7 from 5 – 9 p.m. on the first floor of the Wood Center.

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