The Voiceless



“The Voiceless,” a documentary that features the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence, is coming to UNI’s campus this Wednesday, April 5. The documentary, produced by Vanessa McNeal, will be screened at 5:30 p.m., at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC).

Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with McNeal and the survivors from the film providing an opportunity for students to interact with the those features in the documentary first hand.

McNeal, a graduate student in UNI’s department of social work, discussed the relationship between societal constructions of masculinity and sexual violence.

“We live in a hyper masculine world where men can’t be hurt by things,” McNeal said. “People think that it doesn’t happen to them, and that’s not the case. Sexual violence doesn’t discriminate on gender, race or socio-economic status; it doesn’t matter… Just because you’re a man, it doesn’t excuse you from that.”

In McNeal’s senior year at Iowa State University (ISU), she decided to film a documentary about her life. Within this documentary, she discussed her own experience with sexual violence, which led other sexual violence survivors to reach out to McNeal with stories of their own.

The feedback she received from these survivors inspired her second documentary, entitled “We Are Survivors,” which was screened on campus last year. In this film, there was one male survivor that shared his story. The response to his story inspired the creation of McNeal’s new documentary, “The Voiceless.”

“I sought out and tried to find survivors, and that was probably the most difficult part — getting people to feel comfortable sharing their story,” McNeal said. “It is beyond just the incident. People need to understand how this affects the trajectory of people’s lives because it is bigger than just that.”

This documentary features the survivors telling their own stories, as well as the importance behind being aware that sexual violence occurs to men, not just women. According to McNeal, many people are unaware of the likelihood that men are just as susceptible to sexual violence as women are.

“Some of the things that have been said to survivors is that: ‘You’re a man — you should have fought them off,’ or ‘You’re a man — that can’t happen to you,’” McNeal said. “And that’s just not true.”

Jassim Al Rebh, a UNI student and a survivor featured in “The Voiceless,” feels strongly about sexual violence against children.

“I hope people give children more [of the] attention that they deserve, which I think [children] do not get that,” Al Rebh said.

McNeal’s documentary works to demonstrate that sexual violence needs to be recognized and prevented. According to McNeal, people also need to be made aware of sexual violence within, but not limited to, families, religious communities, law enforcement, the military and the workplace.

“Sexual violence is predictable, and subsequently, preventable. It’s an intentional choice that someone — or a group — makes,” said Alan Heisterkamp, director of the Center for Violence Prevention. “It should be approached as a public health issue and requires education and support at all grade levels in education and within multiple systems…. Teaching and reinforcing that which constitutes a healthy relationship — care, respect, consent, partnership, etc. — should be a priority.”

Jesse White, a UNI student and sexual violence survivor, discussed how his experience with sexual violence has affected his life to this day, including his willingness to confide in people.

“Trust in others,” White said. “I became even more guarded. I just kind of closed myself up emotionally to others.”

McNeal encouraged students to attend the documentary screening on Wednesday, emphasizing the opportunity it will provide for students to hear the ways sexual assault affects men.

“I hope that at a very foundational level, people can finally acknowledge men as survivors,” McNeal said. “I hope that they can find a deeper sense of compassion for men who experience stuff like this.”