project nightingale survivor story guidelines


2-3 pages (can be longer or shorter).

Describe one incident: it can be the rape, assault or abuse itself, but we are more interested it can be an anecdote about how it affected your life afterward and how your life changed (telling people in your life afterwards, registering), dealing with the system (trial, court, jail, therapy), or something very specific to your experience (is there something about what you experienced that is special, surprising, uniquely yours, a story around it that needs to be told?) and then reflect on what that means for you.

Provide the details and some reflection on what it means for you and for others.



An exercise to help you get started, not how you would organize your story.

1.     What did you do? Be specific.

2.     What were you thinking/feeling at the time?

3.     Was this a spontaneous act?

4.     Do you remember being offended yourself as a child and did this contribute to your thinking? Do you have any perception about what happened in your childhood, conflicts with parents/siblings, friends, relatives that may have set predisposed you to offend?

5.     Did you tell anybody what you did or were you exposed by your victim?

6.     When you first realized that you were going to cross a boundary and offend, what prevented you from getting help at that time?

7.     What was your experience working with the legal system, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, etc?

8.     Did you experience shame, ridicule, embarrassment or judgment? If so, what happened? Be specific.

9.     How did this play out in other aspects of your life?

10.   How did your body and mind respond to these feelings?

11.   How long has it been since your offence? How are you different now? How do you feel now versus then? How do you feel about the reasons you gave then and now?

12.   What is your relationship to the restrictions placed on you? How do you react to people who judge you?

13.  What would you say to someone, or what have you said to someone, who is angry with you or afraid you might offend again?

14.   Can you put into words what you think your victim was feeling and experiencing at the time? Did that affect you then or now?

15.   What happened with your family and/or significant other when they found out? And afterwards?

16.  Have there been any ways in which the legal system, registry, etc has affected your life in ways you didn’t expect?

17.   How to you plan to change?  What are your goals?

18.   Have you done an inventory of what your actions did for others? Have you made amends?

19.  Can you see a way forward that provides a sense of hope for yourself and benefits others at the same time? What would you say to other offenders that might help?

20.   What makes you angry?

21.   What makes you sad?

22.   What makes you afraid?

23.  What makes you happy?


CATEGORY 1: What happened

CATEGORY 2: The aftermath

a.     Separation from family and therapy

b.     Slow realization of all the harm done to others and the consequences.

c.     Specific stories

a.     Registry experiences

b.     Apartment/housing challenges

c.     Employment challenges

d.     Dealing with parole officers, etc.

e.     Travel restrictions

f.      Etc.

CATEGORY 3: Back to life... progress to a better place.




-- Start in the action OR with an interest-creating-device (e.g. provide the “bait”)

            Introduce yourself:  some basic facts about who you are…set the stage.

-- The devil is in the details, so give concrete details.

PERSONAL: What do you recall about any given situation? How did you physically and emotionally act, very specifically?

SCENE: What did you look at? For example, if you’re being cross-examined at the stand, did you find yourself staring at the clock in the back of the hall because you couldn’t make eye contact?

CHARACTER: What do you remember about the characters you encountered during your story? For example, do you remember how someone smelled? Or simply hearing their breath? Or do you remember the way the lawyer’s tie was crooked?


-- Be constantly raising questions.

-- A good story doesn’t just tell the facts but lets the listener/reader in on what it all means.

                        How did this make you feel?

                        What did you learn about yourself?

                        What did you learn about other people?

                        How did this challenge you?

                        Did it leave you with a message for other offenders or survivors?

            -- Often times, what rings as true is what is honest.

-- The word “essay” comes from the French word for “try,” so consider this simply trying; it is an exploration. Write what interests you.

-- And at the end, it should have a feeling of discovery; about yourself, about this situation, about the world. Writing is the splendid gift of not knowing! Behind it is the need to make sense of life behind the impulse to write.


-- Have something at stake. What did you win or lose? What have you been carrying that you can relate to this situation?

-- Having something at stake is being human, and after all, this is an exercise in what it means to be human and what it means to live life.


A few agreements:

1.     Are you devoted to sharing your story in an honest and accountable way so that by virtue of full disclosure, the possibility of reconciliation exists?

2.     Are you prepared to not link your disclosure with any obligation of others to see you in any other way than the way they feel comfortable?

3.     Despite all that you have done and the attitudes that other have towards you, do you have the courage to accept that you are a person with worth and value that can make a positive difference in the world?


"Everything is more compelling when you talk like a human being, when you talk like yourself."
                                                                — Ira Glass