AINA TRONCOSO: "No one ever deserves to receive violence or experience a situation of abuse. There’s absolutely nothing that can justify what these people have done and the victims have experienced and, therefore, none of this is ever their own fault."

07/26/2022

This month we interview Aina Troncoso, a psychologist in the Department against abuses in the audiovisual and performing arts sector in Catalonia. This department is already fully operational and can be contacted by victims of abuse by phone, WhatsApp and e-mail in a fully confidential and anonymous manner.

The Department was created after the detection of approximately 150 cases of abuse in the sector over the last two years, of which a very small number ended in complaints being filed. This situation demonstrates the lack of specialized advice for victims and, very often, the loneliness and the failure to identify the situation of abuse being suffered.

In view of this, the Catalan Film Academy, with the support of Barcelona City Council’s Social Rights, Global Justice, Feminisms and LGTBI area and of Barcelona Provincial Council’s Equality and Social Sustainability area, decided to create this department. We talk about all this in the interview.

 

What led to the creation of this Department? And how did you come to be part of it?

It began to be considered as a result of the cases in the Institut del Teatre, the Aula de Lleida and the Col·legi del Teatre. When there was that media boom of stories of victims who began to explain their cases. Whether in the press, the social media, to lawyers, psychologists or other people working in the care network for these situations. When these cases break out, there is a need to act, to respond to situations of abuse which have occurred repeatedly over the years. At that time, two years ago, focus and discussion groups were formed with different personalities from the sector, and spaces to listen to and care for the victims were also created. These spaces, where victims could talk and be heard, led to the need for some kind of response which goes above all in the direction of offering support and guidance to people who have suffered abuse. The actress María Molins and the lawyer Carla Vall were behind the proposal to create the Department. In my case, the proposal to be part of the team came through them. Since then, we’ve been working to give form to this department.

 

What can a woman or someone who is the victim or witness of these abuses do? What are the first steps to take?

What we offer is above all an initial space to listen and provide advice. The best thing to do is not to keep it to yourself. To put it into words and to share it in the space where you feel most at ease. We offer this listening structure with professional and specialized people. To be able to talk about and share the experience, whether with trusted people or professionals, means that the experience doesn’t stay inside, become entrenched and do even more damage. Because when we share it and make it visible, we don’t bear the weight alone. Talking, putting it into words and not keeping this secret silent is what I’d recommend above all else. Obviously, if it’s a serious situation, you should see a doctor. For example, in the event of a sexual assault, a medical response following the protocol is important during the initial hours. But, in any case, whatever the type of abuse, violence or harassment, we believe that it’s important to be able to share it, to put it into words and to be supported. In the end, what we want to do is to put into practice the message that we never tire repeating, that “the victims are not alone”. To support anyone who has suffered a situation like this.

 

 

Over the last two years, some 150 cases have been detected. The great majority do not end up with a complaint being filed. What are victims most afraid of when it comes to reporting this abuse?

The main element is fear. And, in this respect, there are different sorts of fears. Some are shared with the victims of situations of abuse in any sector, such as, for example, the fear of not being believed or of having to participate in legal proceedings which in itself can sometimes be very tough and doesn’t change anything. They are therefore scared of being re-victimized. Other fears are more specific to the audiovisual sector and are linked to the fact that it’s a small world where everyone knows everyone else. It’s the fear of suffering from reprisal, of being seen as a problematic person, losing work, being accompanied by stigma or becoming “the victim who reported the abuse”. This marks you out and hinders your career. This occurs precisely because we’re in a social context where all this is still placed on the shoulders of the victim and not the attackers. If we don’t transform the culture of the audiovisual sector and of the social context in general, we won’t be able to remedy this state of affairs. In order to reduce the fear, we want to offer this support and specialized advice, so that they at least have the maximum information in order to make a fully informed decision. We want to support them in order to dilute these fears, to see whether they can take the kind of decision that goes in the final direction of protecting themselves and protecting others. In the end, the fact that these situations do not end in complaints being filed and that they continue to be secrets that the others are not aware of or are aware of but do not act on is an endemic problem which leads to the perpetration of this culture of impunity, violence and abuse. I would also like to stress that it’s everyone’s responsibility to give an adequate response to ensure that victims feel that they are able to report abuse in the knowledge that there’s no reason to be afraid. It will be difficult if we don’t manage to transform this.

 

Very often everyone knows something is happening long before it is reported. How can we prevent these situations from becoming entrenched and more endemic than they already are?

In actual fact, this phenomenon of a social secret, which is a secret that everyone knows, however contradictory that may sound, is something that we’ve seen a lot in these cases that have now come to light. Everyone knew that that person in particular or group of people had certain behaviour or did certain inappropriate or directly violent things and no one acted for many years. It’s not an isolated occurrence, but rather something that’s repeated in a sustained manner over time. Here there’s an additional very substantial difficulty for the victim, which is that if everyone knows that something’s happening and they don’t say or do anything, at the time when I’m suffering it, how should I raise my voice if none of the people who aren’t suffering from the impact of the violence is doing or saying anything? It makes it much more difficult for me. The shared social responsibility is that of putting an end to these situations.

We must stop considering as natural certain behaviour that occurs in the context of theatre, film and the audiovisual world in general, which to date has been accepted as good and valid when it’s not. For example, having a teacher or a director who, with the idea of applying pressure to get the best out of you, makes you experience horrible emotions and cry in a rehearsal. Situations like this that we have accepted as natural are in the end a sort of breeding ground. Because in this context red lines and limits become blurred. What we need to do is to revise this culture of tolerance, to try to redraw the red lines and limits which in any other context would be clearer for us. And, above all, each and every one of us must accept responsibility. It shouldn’t occur that I’m aware of a situation of violence, harassment or abuse and I don’t do anything. Being able to talk and share it is what will protect us all in the end. If I talk with my colleagues about a situation that I’ve seen and that I consider isn’t adequate or tolerable, this impression that I have will probably also be shared by them and we can consider it as valid and it will be able to encourage us to maybe even talk about it with someone who is in a position of responsibility, a specialized person. We can thus convey a shared response. If we don’t respond as a context, it’s completely unfair to leave the victims with all this responsibility when they moreover have to endure all the consequences that the victims of abuse and violence have. We’re talking about a phenomenon that’s related to a context which allows this abuse and violence and makes it possible. What we have to do is to transform this context in order to protect these victims and future victims, who will obviously exist if we don’t do anything to stop this.

 

People are talking about cases in the theatre, for example, but not so much in film and yet they must exist. Why do you think that is?

There’s been a boom in theatre, as we’ve also seen in other sectors and countries, because it arises from victims who wanted to explain their story and from good journalism. This boom hasn’t yet taken place in film, as it hasn’t in so many other spaces and sectors. What this tells us, I think, is that it’s still to come. And that when the cases begin to emerge, it will gradually become bigger. We can think of so many other contexts apart from the audiovisual world and the theatre in which this phenomenon hasn’t yet taken place. Unfortunately we know that, precisely because violence and abuse are cross-cutting phenomena in our social context, they do occur. Organizing this department was a way of trying to be prepared to respond when more cases begin to break out and to increase visibility of all these situations that we really know have occurred and are occurring.

 

The Department offers psychological and also legal support. Will you accompany the victims throughout the process?

The goal isn’t so much for us to take care of the whole process but rather to ensure that they don’t have to do it alone, that they have support and advice and that there’s a space to which they can resort and where they’ll be listened to. If the woman wants us to, we can offer her psychological and legal support throughout the process. But our initial intention is to guide them towards the specialized spaces where they can receive the type of help that they consider they need in their current situation. The initial need isn’t always to file a complaint or undergo a psychological process. The idea is to be able to listen to them, to compile, support, help them to identify and name what they’ve experienced, to identify these needs and, from there, guide them toward the support that they can have, which can be by us if they want, but also in other spaces and by other professionals.

 

Both you as the psychologist and the lawyer who offers legal advice are external. Is it important that you are people from outside the sector?

Very much so. We were sure right from the beginning that both the Department and the people who make it up had to be people from outside the sector in order to ensure the greatest confidentiality and specificity of the work. We believe that precisely because there’s fear of retaliation, of being labelled as a victim and the consequences of this, the advice had to be professional, specialized, external and independent. In this respect, for the peace of mind of anyone who’s thinking of contacting us, the communication channels are confidential. No one in the sector will know absolutely anything about any case, just because we’ve been contacted. And, in this respect, we do think that it’s important that this is the case and that, with this independence, that it’s an external space and that the people from the sector must know that this is the case. For the purpose of reducing this fear and encouraging them to contact us and ask us for this support if they’ve experienced any situation of this kind.

 

Apart from the legal and psychological support your lines of action include prevention. What mechanisms or what protocol are you working on?
We’re working with a specific protocol and also on a manual of good practices. The idea is that we can present it this year and that the work we’re doing comes to fruition and can be transferred to the whole sector. Our intention is precisely to prevent and to transform this culture of tolerance that I mentioned earlier. We want the maximum possible number of prevention and awareness-raising actions.

 

The Department’s third line of action is the observatory. What does this consist of?

We also propose compiling these case and witnesses of situations of abuse and violence, irrespective of whether the person who experienced them wants or needs this legal or psychological advice or support now. We may come across the case of someone, for example, who experienced a situation of violence years ago that they have maybe already worked on because they received psychological support and underwent a process of recovery. They don’t need to receive this support now. We also want to compile these situations, to be able to take the temperature of the audiovisual and performing arts sector, to know what things have happened and are occurring now, so that they stop happening and don’t occur again. Therefore, what we want is to compile all the information possible about these present and past situations, irrespective of whether the person needs support now. We also want people to send us these cases in order to be able to compile them and centralize this information. The more cases that we know about, the better we will be able to make these protocols or manuals of good practices.

 

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is currently suffering from this type of abuse?

What I want to transmit to people is that there is help within reach. It’s incredibly complex to experience a situation like this and it’s very difficult to break your silence and ask for help, but the idea is precisely to create these spaces and to provide these listening and support tools in order to ensure that the victims are not alone in this process. The first thing I’d recommend is to put it into words, talking to a trusted person or professional. Being able to talk about the experience will allow them to begin to activate other things. I’d also like to repeat that no one ever deserves to receive violence or experience a situation of abuse. There’s absolutely nothing that can justify what these people have done and the victims have experienced and, therefore, none of this is ever their own fault. And I’d like to stress this fact, because the stories of the attackers often go precisely in the direction of blaming the victim, and the social mechanism of punishment in the face of this type of situations also goes in the direction of questioning the people who received the violence. I’d like to build a discourse that rejects these two things. The central idea is that it’s not your fault, you’re not alone and there are spaces where you can receive this support and this help. We’re here to be able to support you, to offer this shelter and to respond in a professional and specialized manner and in a way considered appropriate.

 

 

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