Start by Believing documentary to be screened Sept. 19 at Athena Cinema

Published: September 5, 2019 Author: Alaina Bartel

Content warning: The video linked to in this story, as well as the full documentary, discusses an incident of sexual violence told from the perspective of the survivor. 

Ohio University Police Department (OUPD) and the Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP) are both committed to survivor-centered processes and responding to sexual assault victims with compassion.

Members of the Ohio University community will be able to witness that approach in action during the screening of “Start by Believing: The Power of a Survivor-Centered Process Documentary” from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19 at the Athena Cinema. 

There will be a question-and-answer session immediately following the 30-minute film, which follows student and survivor Brie Sivy, Director of OHIO’s Survivor Advocacy Program Kim Castor, and OUPD Detective Mathew Austin as Sivy’s sexual assault case is investigated. 

The documentary, produced by OHIO’s University Communications and Marketing team, also follows Sivy’s journey from victim, to survivor, to aspiring social worker. 

Castor explained the documentary helps the viewer understand the importance of using a survivor-centered approach and how that directly benefits the survivor whose life has been impacted by a horrific crime. 

“We know that many survivors throughout the country do not feel believed by those who they disclose to,” Castor noted. “It is our hope that together we can create a community here at Ohio University that truly supports survivors and continuously evaluates and adjusts our approaches to best serve the needs of those students impacted by the pervasive issue of sexual violence.”

The Survivor Advocacy Program recognizes that it is much more likely to achieve this goal by working together with its colleagues, especially those at OUPD. Castor said the Survivor Advocacy Program is appreciative of OUPD’s interest and commitment to the Start by Believing campaign and for its awareness of the important role advocated play in supporting survivors throughout the criminal justice process. 

"I'm not always very open when it comes to my struggles, it can be hard for me to admit when I need help,” Sivy explained. “For a long time I was unsure about sharing my story because I had heard other survivor stories that were far worse than mine. Then I had someone tell me that my thought process is the exact reason why I should share my story because there was probably another survivor out there who also thought their story wasn't ‘bad enough’ to share. So, to my fellow survivors who are afraid to speak up, who think their story isn't important or valid — I see you, I hear you and I believe you. You are valid and never alone." 

Sivy has been publicly speaking and sharing her story alongside Det. Austin and Castor since 2018. Their first presentation to over 200 campus and community members spearheaded OHIO’s “Start by Believing” campaign and highlighted how the often traumatizing experience of working with the criminal justice system can, in fact, be empowering for survivors if a survivor-focused approach and interdisciplinary team-model are used. 

“I’ve been honored to be a part of the effort to bring ‘Start by Believing’ to Ohio University,” said Det. Austin. “We greatly appreciate our partnership with the Survivor Advocacy Program and are proud of our commitment to ‘Start by Believing.’ We are also especially grateful to Brie for her strength and willingness to collaborate with us on this important documentary. We hope that this project can help to move the needle on how everyone responds to sexual assault, both here at home and nationally.”

A well-received second presentation followed the next school year, and the requests to repeat the talk came pouring in. In April 2018, Det. Austin and Sivy were awarded the Law Enforcement and Survivor Special Courage Award at the 2018 Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center’s Models of Justice Awards Celebration in Columbus. 

Det. Austin, Sivy and Castor also presented “Start by Believing” at the End Violence Against Women Conference in San Diego earlier this year. 

“I would like to say a special thank you to Brie Sivy,” Castor said. “She has taken the most horrible experience of her life and is using it to improve the lives of others. She has taught me and many others so much through this process and her resiliency is truly inspiring. She has no idea how many lives she has touched through her bravery and vulnerability and by sharing her story.”