Sexual Violence Centre Cork: “It’s About Talking About It”

This Valentine’s Day afternoon, dancers and volunteers for the Sexual Violence Centre at Camden Quay will gather at the Opera House for a special flashmob, as part of a worldwide event raising awareness of sexual violence, and the worldwide movement to break the stigma surrounding its victims. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with SVCC head Mary Crilly and flashmob leader Inma Pavon.

Valentine’s Day in Cork City will mean an extra-busy few days for shops, restaurants, florists, and by the time 1pm rolls around, the beginning of an influx of panic-buying significant others, descending upon Paul Street to get the last few bits in (or all of them in some cases!) ahead of the evening’s proceedings. The perfect time, then, for a flashmob to strike, and disrupt the routine. Thursday week will see the volunteers of Cork Sexual Violence Centre, accompanied by dancers from around the city, co-ordinate and dance to raise awareness not only of their own cause locally in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but of the realities that one billion women, out of three worldwide, will have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

The flashmob, kicking off at 1.15 on the day, is part of the One Billion Rising project, that sees similar displays of solidarity and expression happen around the world on Valentine’s Day. For Sexual Violence Centre Cork co-ordinator Mary Crilly, creation of awareness via the arts and community outreach is as important as fundraising, keeping the word out there after a busy holiday season of fundraising initiatives, like Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Undivided’ Christmas mega-gig. “For the people working in the centre, I think they feel an incredible buzz. Not just listened to, but that we matter. Sometimes when you’re working in a centre, especially when there are counsellors seeing people everyday, you’re not aware of what else is happening out there, so it’s encouraging to see that there are young people, listening, and that they want to raise awareness.”

‘V-Day’, the one-day campaign for One Billion Rising under which the flashmob falls, has been on the peripheries for the Sexual Violence Centre for a few years, in terms of its community outreach goals and collaborations with local artists. But in getting something like a flashmob together, creating a sense of urgency was also important. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and the 14th of February is very soon. If we started rehearsals in September or October, people might forget by February. January seems awfully late to try and do it, but we said we’d give it a go… We’re very aware that the majority of people will not come in for counselling. I think Irish people, in general, are very private. One in ten people (affected by sexual violence) will come in for counselling, and it’s about letting the world know that if this has happened to you, that we’re really sorry that it’s happened, and that you’re not on your own, and for the people supporting them: we’re here to help. It’s about talking about it.”

That process of community outreach has been important to many of the Centre’s drives for fundraising and awareness led them to look into the city’s vibrantly-busy dance community, whereupon they were introduced to locally-based contemporary dancer and tutor Inma Pavon, whose experience and passion for people made her a perfect fit for the project, according to Crilly. “We were really fortunate. One of the women here knew Inma, and she said ‘why don’t you contact her?’. I did, and she got back immediately, within a few hours. She said, ‘I dance, I do dancing, I teach, I know a lot of people, I’ll organise this part’, and she made it so much easier. It’s wonderful when you have someone like Inma, who wanted to help, but never knew how to help, looking after things, it’s wonderful, totally.”

Wanting to help, but not knowing how to help, can be a big obstacle for many ordinary people who might like to volunteer, not only for SVCC, but for charity in general. When asked how people can get involved, Crilly is open about what anyone can bring to the fray for a community group like theirs when they reach out. “People have organised community events in here, and for us, it was a way of getting people into the centre, who wouldn’t previously have been in, who might have wanted to, and felt safe coming in and leaving like that. People, when they want to volunteer, I hate them thinking that they have to have so many skills. It can be big, or small, or whatever they’re willing, or able to do. We do want new energy coming in, new people coming through, whatever they can do for us.”

Making her home in Cork after a lifetime of pursuing contemporary dance around the world from her native Spain, Pavon has, in recent years, harnessed the power of community across different media and artistic disciplines, to create a compelling body of work that goes from freeform dance classes to appearances in music videos for local artists like alternative folk singer Elaine Malone. Working on the flashmob, Pavon gets to bring her expertise in working with new people to the fray, and embark on rehearsals with people of different skill levels (and none). “Working on the flashmob has been absolutely incredible. Just the fact that I am a dancer, and a believer that dance helps to break chains, the flashmob is, in fact, a gift given to me to help me spread this message. I love working with new people, that’s the beauty with dance, that you meet new people all the time… It’s a place to make people feel good through the learning process, which can be at times more difficult. My task, I believe, is to help faciliate that process, and make it easier for everyone to pick up.”

The choreography of the piece has been agreed upon by project participants around the world, focusing on breaking the stigma of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault. For Pavon, who’s used to far more freedom of movement and concepts in her work, the differences are stark, but the validity of expressing a message and empowering others is important “Contemporary dance is a very ‘expanded’ dance technique, where lots of different styles come to be. Also, it depends a lot on the choreographer’s taste, to add something completely unique to their dance works. I like to think we love as many different dances as we love people: all dance is good if feels good for you… I love making my own dances, sometimes to no music, just allowing the movement to emerge from a sensation or visual stimulus. Music comes later sometimes, but it’s all to bring on a journey, along with the dance.”

Pavon’s work with various groups and new dancers in the community from her studio on Monahan Road have informed her approach to community outreach, so when it came time to muck in on the V-Day project on a local basis, she eagerly answered the call to do so. “I want to thank the Sexual Violence Centre for making this happen, and bringing the awareness of this issue to the people of Cork. This is a very important event, and its goal of raising awareness about sexual violence around the world is really necessary, still, in peoples’ lives.”

The Sexual Violence Centre continues to go from strength to strength, with more calls to action and ongoing projects, such as nightlife safety initiative ‘Ask for Angela’, taking place over the course of 2019. Equally as important, however, is the health and wellbeing of the people that keep the SVC running and serving an all-important purpose in the community. Last year saw Mary Crilly diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, a horrible shock that refocused her personal efforts, but also provided a profound perspective on her work, as she rounds the corner to recovery. “I needed lots of surgery, I needed lots of chemotherapy, so it came as a huge shock. I was lucky enough that I got diagnosed and had chemo all through the summer. Last week, I had an operation to reverse the stoma, which was joining my bowel back together. It’s been a rough year, but I’m at the end of it, and I feel amazing. I feel lucky and privileged to have the people that have supported me, and that I’m at the stage, now, where I’m feeling ready to go again!”

The Sexual Violence Centre Cork flashmob, for the V-Day Project, happens at 1.15pm at Cork Opera House. For all the latest information, and to get involved, check ‘Sexual Violence Centre Cork’ across social media.

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