By HTP Editorial

Alli Watt is Executive Director of Breaking Silence, a nonprofit organization that partners with survivors of interpersonal violence, advocacy centers and volunteers to give voice, healing and empowerment to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  “Stories of Survival” is an interactive exhibit created by Breaking Silence, which offers participants an opportunity to hear survivor stories in a way that both raises awareness and, hopefully, compels us to action.

“By using the stories of those who have been impacted by interpersonal violence, Breaking Silence is able to present their stories in an individual and powerful way. Each participant is provided with an audio player and is invited to listen to the story of a survivor while walking through the setting that brings certain aspects of their experience to life. By recreating the familiar worlds of a dorm room, a kitchen, or a family room the imagery that is painted in ones mind allows for the establishment of active empathy that empowers participants to end our current culture of abuse.”

Alli Watt is an educator and advocate for the recovery of victims of interpersonal violence, for promoting empathy and responsibility from the culture at large, and for the empowerment that comes with sharing our experiences with each other.

                                                                                             Alli Watt
Q & A

How has your background in education led you to becoming an advocate for survivors of interpersonal violence?

My background in education allowed me to understand different learning styles and how we can develop empathy through learning. I was a history education major, so part of my job was to come up with ways to get students to feel history and walk through people’s experiences. That combined with my own past as a survivor is what led me to becoming an advocate. I became a trained advocate at the age of 19 for the Colorado State University Victim’s Assistance Team and knew from that moment on that I wanted to give survivors a voice and help create avenues where they could share their story.

Breaking Silence focuses on the telling of stories.  Why is this an effective way to promote positive change?

Story telling is one of the oldest forms of communication. It allows both those hearing the story and those telling it to experience change and healing. When a survivor is able to write their story in their own way, with their own words, and in a safe, supportive environment, it begins the process of moving the trauma from the ‘lizard brain’ into the ‘human brain.’ When our memories live in the lizard brain, people experience past trauma as if it were happening to them in that moment. Their fight, flight, or freeze is triggered and it often leads to the person having flashbacks. Story telling is one of the ways that people can start to take away the trauma of their past and begin to heal from what happened.
Every story that we use is impactful to hear because they are written and recorded by the actual survivor. You can feel them struggle with saying certain words and hear as they start to find their voice as you move along in their journey. Story telling creates empathy in those who cannot understand what it means to survive sexual abuse. It is through this development that we inflict positive change and encourage students to be advocates for those who may have experienced assault.


What are some societal factors that contribute to interpersonal violence?

Wow! This is a big question and something that I could spend a lot of time on, but to put it in a few words, a lot sexual assault for college aged kids happen because they do not understand what consent means, how to express what they want in an honest way, and are unfamiliar with their new freedom and responsibilities. The majority of sexual assaults on college campuses happen when in the first semester. That statistic speaks volumes to the factors that are contributing to why it is happening at the rate at which it currently is.
As for other forms of interpersonal violence like domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse, those factors are also really complicated. Some of it is entitlement, the need for control, not understanding appropriate boundaries within relationships, and many others.
The bottom line is that those who commit these crimes make the conscious decision to do so. There is never any blame on the victims and the fault is entirely on the offenders.


What is one thing about interpersonal violence that we may not know that we should know?

Interpersonal violence impacts 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men. These crimes often make survivors lose their sense of self, create trauma responses that can lead to depression and PTSD, and have other lifelong effects. The damage of having someone you love and trust violate that in such a violent and manipulative way leaves many feeling helpless, lost, and unwanted. In order to help those overcome the pain of abuse, we must create a society where survivors are supported, believed, and lifted up so that healing and thriving is possible.

How can people see the “Stories of Survival” exhibit?

The exhibit is one that travels around from university to university. We are usually in a location for about a week and those times vary depending on the schedule of the campus. Our events page at is current and lets you know where we will be next.


The Hidden Tears Project is a media company that looks to promote social justice through raising awareness about gender inequality, sexual assault and human trafficking.  Do you think media is making headway in this regard, and what can we all do better?

Media is absolutely making headway in creating change for many people. The coverage around this issue has been focused on believing the survivor and validating their words. In the past, we have always put so much emphasis on whether it actually happened, or how the woman might have conducted herself so that she deserved what happened, or that men could never be victims so how can we even classify it as assault. These and many other stigmas have started to be broken down and with that more and more survivors know that they can share their story.
The media needs to continue to validate survivors, share their stories, and bring to the light the magnitude of the problem. The more we break the silence, the more survivors will heal, and the more the number of people impacted by these crimes will go down.
To learn more about Breaking Silence and the “Stories of Survival” exhibit,  click here
To make a donation to Breaking Silence, click here