Olivia Blaylock and Ashley Kanuscak needed an idea.
Part of their jobs at Bolton Refuge House involved outreach, but they hadn’t found much success engaging people, especially in smaller communities. Bolton Refuge House focuses on advocacy and shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, topics that can be difficult to discuss.
“We just weren’t getting a healthy response back, because no one really likes to talk about that,” Blaylock said.
To potentially increase interest, Kanuscak, the Jackson County domestic violence advocate, suggested a different approach: a podcast featuring information and real-life stories from survivors. They received approval to go ahead with the idea, secured funding for audio equipment and launched “Silence No More” in May, about six weeks after Kanuscak’s suggestion.
“We wanted to reach people in a new and innovative way,” Kanuscak said. “We thought if they could listen, maybe it would start some private conversations that would stem from there.”
“Silence No More” comes out every Tuesday and Thursday and is available through Apple Podcasts and other providers on smartphones and digital devices. Kanuscak hosts Tidbit Tuesdays, which features shorter informational episodes about topics like gaslighting — psychological manipulation — and abuse toward men. Blaylock, the Buffalo County domestic violence and sexual assault advocate, handles Thursday episodes that include longer interviews with survivors, family members and experts in various fields related to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Part of the goal involves giving survivors a platform to tell their stories while adhering to their privacy. In episodes detailing personal accounts, names and sometimes voices are changed for the safety and protection of survivors and anyone else involved in their story.
“We really wanted to be raw and realistic,” Kanuscak said. “Some of our episodes can be really graphic, but we really wanted to have survivors have their own voice. We didn’t want to censor or tailor anything that they were going to say. We really wanted them to be as open and honest as they could be.”
The audio medium involved a new venture for Kanuscak and Blaylock, who both enjoy listening to podcasts but had never recorded their own. In the first three months, they have received significant amounts of encouraging feedback in person and online, something they didn’t totally expect.
The podcast has a fair amount of local listeners and notable audiences in Chicago and New York. People have even listened from places like Switzerland, Canada and Mexico.
“That was the moment where I realized, ‘Hey, this is really working,’” Kanuscak said. “...It makes me feel good that the community has kind of rallied around us.”
Some listeners have sent emails with compliments, questions or ideas for the podcast, some of which Kanuscak incorporated into Tidbit Tuesday episodes on topics like gaslighting and emotional abuse.
“I really want to reach my audience, so I do take suggestions,” Kanuscak said. “I want them to get the material that they want to get out of the podcast.”
They both hope for more audience input asking them to discuss a particular topic.
“It makes it fun,” Blaylock said. “The whole reason we’re doing this is to educate people.”
Now that the podcast has several episodes available, survivors have expressed willingness to talk to them about certain topics or sharing their background stories, a pleasant surprise for the employees.
“I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but I think they find it therapeutic to tell their story,” Blaylock said. “A lot of times after they tell their story, I hear things like, ‘Wow, I’m really glad I did that. I was so nervous at first.’”
The podcast hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Blaylock and Kanuscak faced a steep technical learning curve early on, and they are still working to make the audio sound as clear and seamless as possible.
Another challenge involved funding for the audio equipment and software to produce the podcast. Blaylock and Kanuscak record separately because they live and work in different locations, so paying for two microphones and editing software has proved difficult for a nonprofit organization like Bolton Refuge.
Overall, though, the project has involved much more upside than downside. Blaylock and Kanuscak have a one-year plan in mind and will figure out where to take the podcast from there.
Blaylock and Kanuscak have unpredictable schedules and the podcast is only a small part of their jobs, so they record whenever they find time. Despite the limited funding and occasional stresses involved, they have found the podcast to be an extremely rewarding experience.
“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Kanuscak said. “I can honestly say that. It’s helped me grow ... professionally and personally. It really has benefited me.”
After searching for outreach options, “Silence No More” has blossomed to reach citizens far and wide.