The Lisa Project wants to open Calgarians’ eyes and ears to child abuse

The Lisa Project wants to open Calgarians’ eyes and ears to child abuse

From StarMetro Calgary – As part of its goal to encourage more people to report suspected child abuse, the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre opened the Lisa Project at Eau Claire Market on Tuesday — an immersive, walk-through audio exhibit that narrates the real-life stories of child abuse survivors.

Visitors begin by passing through black curtains to the sound of a dial tone — before a 911 operator picks up.

“Mommy! Mommy! Stop it!” a 6-year-old girl screams through her tears as her stepdad beats her mom.

That’s how the Lisa Project starts — with the cries and screams of its namesake.

Sara Austin, who’s the CEO of the advocacy centre, says the goal of holding the public exhibit from now until Nov. 2 is to give people an immersive experience from a child’s perspective of abuse.

Austin said she also hopes it’ll make apparent the need for people who suspect child abuse to report it.

As visitors pass from room to room, carrying a portable audio player, they hear the stories of survivors of child abuse, narrated by actors. The children’s names have been changed.

Except Lisa’s story is told through the original 911 call she made as her drunk stepdad beat her mom 26 years ago in San Diego County, Calif.

“You’re not gonna be able to forget about it. And that’s really the point,” said project designer Gene Hardin.

“Lisa made a 911 call to tell them to hurry to her house because her drunk stepfather had been beating up her family. Unfortunately, that young child had to be the most mature person in the family,” he said.

The audio from Lisa’s call lasts about 30 seconds, with the child begging her mom to get up.

“It’s pretty rough,” Hardin said.

He’s been touring the exhibit through California over the last eight years and recently through Iowa. This Calgary iteration is the first time it’s been in Canada, which the advocacy centre wanted to host as part of child abuse prevention month, for October.

“(It) evokes emotion in you, and it’s designed to do that on purpose. We want to pull at your heartstrings,” he said. “Advocacy comes from you getting involved, becoming aware and not being ignorant to a subject anymore.”

The Calgary Child Advocacy Centre has been open for five years. In that time, it’s assessed more than 7,500 children and youth.

Statistics from the centre show that among youth aged 12 to 17 years old who’ve gone through the centre, 68 per cent have experienced sexual abuse and 15 per cent have experienced physical abuse.

Austin said that everyone has a moral duty to report child abuse or suspected cases of child abuse; if they have those suspicions, they should call Children’s Services at 403-297-2995 or the Calgary Police Service.

She said warning signs that can signal child abuse or neglect may include nervousness around adults, aggression toward others, inability to stay awake or concentrate, sudden changes in personality, unnatural interest in sex, unexplained injuries or bruises, low self-esteem, or poor hygiene.