New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
The ten-minute, 16mm film Voices, a collection of vignettes that puts the audience in the position of the survivor of crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence, although completed in 2003, remains relevant, even though according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network rape/sexual assault crimes have fallen by over 60% since 1993.
The figures can be deceiving. “It is really hard to look at statistics because so many of these crimes go unreported. Especially crimes of incest,” the producer, director, and editor of Voices, Elli Ventouras (Elli Ventouras-Onaldin), Academic Dean of the New York Film Academy, told The Greek News. “The alarming fact is that every two minutes someone in America is sexually assaulted.”
“Domestic Homicides have decreased by 25% since the 1970’s however, this is domestic homicide, which has to be reported. Domestic Violence has decreased by 42% since 1993 but, again, women do not report domestic violence because one, they are scared for their lives or their children’s lives, and two, if they do get the strength and money to leave, they usually go into hiding. Three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day. One out of three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime,” said Ventouras.
It is not known what the true statistics are because many women don’t report these crimes, or try to cover them up, especially incest, she said. “Incest is the worst because the child won’t speak up because they are told that they will die or that their mother will be killed and they just don’t talk. If they do talk then it is their word against the person who is sexually assaulting them and usually children don’t know to gather DNA evidence.”
The other problem, said Ventouras, is that although the abuser may not be raping the child they may be sexually abusing them in other ways, so that there would be no tearing of the hymen or any signs of the sexual abuse. “Even if the child reports it, without any proof, the abuser is free to move on to the next child. Sometimes the abuser is the father of the child and the mother turns her head and doesn’t accept it, so the child has no where to turn and the father is free to continue doing what they are doing. Usually in cases of incest, the child will talk if there is another sibling that the abuser moves on to, because they don’t want it to start happening to someone else.”
Ms. Ventouras hopes that “after seeing this film the audience will think twice before judging the survivors”.
Ms. Ventourasʼs attention to these issues by a friend who was on volunteer for a rape crisis center one weekend a month to go to hospitals and comfort patients who were — or were thought to be — rape or domestic violence survivors.
“She would come back with some crazy stories so I thought it would be a good idea for a documentary,” said Ventouras, who thought that she would be able to accompany her friend to the hospitals but found that she was not allowed to do so. The rape crisis center was very helpful, however, and allowed her to videotape all of their training sessions, the Central Park Jogger (not on video) and her interview with a domestic violence survivor.
During her research Ventouras realized that women who were raped were stigmatized, and that “much focus was put on what they were wearing, what time of night it was that they were out, or what they did to get them raped. Also, in a lot of cultures — even ours — domestic violence is not seen as a crime; it is seen as a husband’s right.”
A new idea emerged: to create a film that put the audience in the place of the victim so that he next time that they heard of a case of sexual assault or domestic violence they wouldn’t ask what the woman was wearing or what she did to aggravate her husband; a film that allowed people to empathize with the victims, so that “victims would then get the help that they needed and talk to people instead of keeping it bottled up inside or staying in a situation that was dangerous for them.”
She succeeded: “I actually had victims come up to me after screenings and say thank you. I think that was the best thing that I could ask for,” said Ventouras.
Voices has won awards at the Festival Du Cinema de Bruxelles and the Cinema Du Court Festival in Lyon. It was a semifinalist at the Boston Motion PIcture Awards, was distinguished due to special artistic value by the Committee of Arts at the Golden Gate Fiction and Documentary Festival, screened at the Drama Short Film Festival in Greece, the Thessaloniki Panorama Film Festival in Greece, the Miami Short Film Festival, and the Barcelona Short Film Festival.
Ventourasʼs other films are Modern Greek Tragedy (nominated for three awards at The Drama Film Festival and screened at the Molodost Film Festival, the Barcelona Film Festival, and the Majorca Film Festival), and The Book of Last Pages, 1999, (featured at the Drama Short Film Festival). She is currently working on a script for a feature romantic comedy.
Ventouras has a BA in Filmmaking from Hunter College, an MS in Communication Arts from NY Institute of Technology, and an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design.
Elli and her husband Cuneyt (who is from Turkey) have a 7 1/2 month old son, Gregory Fehim Onaldin. “We named the baby after both our fathers,” says Ventouras, “Actually my dad’s middle name is Gregory and a week before my mom died she told me that if I ever had a boy I should name it Gregory because she liked that name. I liked it also and promised her to do so. So I honored her wishes.”