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‘My name is Lisa:’ Immersive Calgary exhibit explores child abuse from kid’s view

CALGARY — An exhibit in the United States that immerses people into the world of a child who has suffered abuse is being used by the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre to try and protect kids.

Sara Austin, the centre’s CEO, says about a third of the population has experienced some form of child abuse.

“This exhibit is really meant to help you see child abuse affects kids from all walks of life … different cultural backgrounds and different forms of abuse. It takes many different forms,” said Austin.

“You come out of it with a strong sense of feeling you must take action to keep our kids safe.”

The exhibit was unveiled Tuesday and it allows visitors to hear, see and experience the reality of child abuse.

“Hi my name is Lisa. You don’t know me but I’d like to tell you a little about a world that is foreign to you but very familiar to me,” the 10-minute program begins.

The Lisa Project, which was developed in California eight years ago, includes the little girl’s frantic 911 call asking for help as she was being abused. Visitors go room by room through various scenarios to demonstrate that child abuse doesn’t “look” a certain way, and they are reminded of the importance of reporting concerns and suspicions.

In a final segment Lisa’s voice is older. She describes using alcohol and drugs. She is having her own child but doesn’t know who the father is.

Lisa also recounts the stories of two other children.

Ashley is from a well-off family.

“Dear diary, I have a cast on my arm. You know from the skiing accident. I’ve never even put on a pair of skis,” she said.

“At least he didn’t hit me in the face again. You’d think I was the freaking dog. Sometimes I wish I’d just die.”

A young boy named Evan is often locked outside and doesn’t know where to turn for help.

“He wishes he could tell someone. Or go to someone for help. But his mom tells him that if he tells anyone what’s going on they’ll take him away forever and he’ll never see her again.”

Gene Hardin created the program along with his wife after seeing how effective an immersive program was at a King Tut exhibit.

The Lisa Exhibit has been available in the U.S. for years but this is its first time in Canada. He said it is for adults and teens but not recommended for younger children.

“The audio is pretty rough so we do have secondary aged kids go through the exhibit 13 to 18 years old. We find that age group, after they’ve experienced something together, are much more willing to talk about things and open up,” said Hardin

“You’re not going to be able to forget about it and that’s the point.”