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WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS about the play. It also describes situations of intimate partner violence.


the bandaged place explores the experience of a young gay, Black man who is a survivor of intimate partner violence (IPV). In a 2018 interview with the Playwrights’ Center, author Harrison David Rivers disclosed that the play emerged from his own life experience: “(In) 2006, I was in a relationship with a man that became physically abusive and resulted in me being beaten and stabbed…I wrote (the play) at the suggestion of my therapist. I would go to meet with her and I would just sit there in her office unable to articulate my feelings about the experience. She said to me, ‘Maybe you should try writing a play.’”

Rivers’s therapist understood that telling the story of his trauma is a step of the recovery process. This is consistent with a well-respected framework on trauma recovery, articulated by psychologist Judith Herman. Herman’s ideas, published in 1992 and based on the work of pioneering nineteenth century psychologist Pierre Janet, address a broad range of trauma, including (but not limited to) the impact of domestic abuse and IPV.

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“The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others,” explains Herman. “Recovery therefore is based upon empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections.” Forging connections with others after a traumatic event is a key to rebuilding trust, autonomy, initiative, identity, and intimacy. She explains the recovery process as three distinct stages:

  • The first stage of recovery is to establish the survivor's safety. This first means restoring control of the body and then moving outward to one’s environment. In the play, Jonah has received medical help for his physical injuries and moved away from his abuser. There is a restraining order to protect him from his perpetrator. (However, as the play shows, restraining orders can be difficult to enforce.)
  • The second stage is to tell the story of the trauma. Reconstructing the narrative allows the survivor to transform the traumatic memory so that it can be integrated into their life story; however, Herman notes the survivor must choose when they are ready to confront the memory. In the play, we hear that Jonah has spoken to a therapist, but we do not know if he’s reached this stage. We do see Jonah tell Sam his story, and this is a turning point for their connection in the play.
  • The third stage is to engage more actively in the world. Connecting means deeper relationships with peers, families, co-workers, and lovers. If the survivor is a parent (like Jonah), they may come to see how the trauma has indirectly affected their children and make reparations. We see Jonah reconnect to his grandmother and his daughter, and also take steps towards a new romantic relationship. In this phase, survivors may (re)gain focus on their own ambitions and work, and they may also work on helping other survivors of abuse. Rivers’s play and his own willingness to speak publicly about his experience is an example of such engagement.

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Although Herman’s three stages describe a progressive arc, healing is not always linear. A range of factors can protract and complicate recovery, especially in cases of long-term trauma. As the play shows us, relationships between survivors and perpetrators are complicated. Survivors may hold onto positive feelings for their abusive partner, especially from the beginning of a relationship, and they may hold onto the hope that their partner will be the person they were originally attracted to. If the couple has children together, the survivor may want to maintain their family. In cases where the law has intervened, even when a restraining order has been issued (as in the play), there is very little enforcement to prevent an abuser from returning.

Societal issues may also place obstacles to escaping violent relationships. Religious or cultural beliefs and practices can uphold outdated gender roles and keep the victim trapped in the relationship. Financial dependence may also make it difficult or impossible to leave an abusive relationship. Men who are victims of abuse may feel stigma about talking about their situation. Since 85% of victims are women, a majority of support and resources are aimed at heterosexual women, making it harder for men to find help. Statistically, gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience intimate partner violence than their heterosexual counterparts. Rivers hopes his play will bring attention to how IPV effects gay men: “to shed some light on a section of our population that is experiencing something that’s very difficult. A population that might not be inclined to speak up for various reasons. Fear. Further marginalization. Shame.”

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A growing body of research is showing how trauma manifests in the body and the brain, and how art can serve as healing modality. Trauma causes the body to secrete stress hormones, which may change brain areas responsible for fear conditioning, threat detection, emotion regulation, and information processing. People with post-traumatic stress disorder experience hyperactivity of  the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. The arts invite trauma survivors to ground themselves in the present, in order to safely process their trauma and place it in the past. Art therapy draws on a range of artistic mediums, including dance/movement, music, visual arts/crafting, and theatre. Survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence may experience healing effects by listening to their inner voices and using their bodies to express feelings, choices, and thoughts.

In the play, Jonah is a professional dancer. Movement encourages reflection and self-awareness, which can support self-empowerment for survivors. Gibney Dance in New York City offers a dance movement therapy program for survivors of gender-based violence: a recent study showed that IPV survivors who participated in a 12-session virtual movement program experienced improved mood and a decrease in symptoms of PTSD and psychological distress.

From Herman’s framework, art therapy, and the bandaged place itself, we see how the horrors of intimate partner violence may ultimately be transformed to something constructive for the survivor. The play’s title is from a quote by Rumi that says, “don’t turn away, keep looking at the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters you.” In his 2018 Playwrights’ Center interview, Rivers explained, “while I was writing this play, bruised and walking with a cane, the (Rumi) quote came back to me. And when it did, it spoke directly to my heart…For me it means, don’t look away from your pain, don’t disengage from it, because that pain is the source of your power.”

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Finn, Haley. “Keep looking at the bandaged place: An interview with Harrison David Rivers.Playwrights’ Center, 2018.

Herman, Judith MD. “Recovery from psychological trauma.Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 1998, 52(S1), S98–S103. 

Kippert, Amanda. “A Guide for Male Survivors of Domestic, 13 Oct. 2021.

Kippert, Amanda. “Stages of Recovery After Trauma.”, 30 Jan. 2019.

MOVE TO MOVE BEYOND® Healing through Movement.” Gibney Company Community Center, N.D.

“PTSD and the Arts: A Path to Healing Our Healers.” International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) The Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics. Johns Hopkins Medicine, N.D.

Riley, Sarah. Positive Effects of Art Therapy for Women and Children from Backgrounds of

Domestic Violence. University of Wisconsin-Superior, N.D.

Why Do Victims Stay?National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, N.D.