In October of 2011 Grace Brown started Project Unbreakable: the beginning of healing through art. By photographing survivors of sexual assault holding a sign with a quote from their rapists, family, friends, police officers, or a message to their rapists, Brown helps give survivors of sexual assault a voice. Brown has photographed over one hundred survivors and has received over eight hundred submissions from all over the country. These stories are extremely diverse and no story or no message is the same. Sometimes the women and men photographed cover their faces, other times they do not. Sometimes they are in the same place where the assault happened. Often the messages target former partners and family members and show the extreme manipulation and attempted justification of the rapists and their actions. Often these voices point to victim blaming, threats, rationalization of the assault and disbelief or trivialization of the assault by people close to the survivor, as well as assumed ownership over the survivor’s body. Examples of messages and quotes that reflect this are among many other:
“How hard can it be to have to see him everyday on campus? Just move on!”
“How could you let this happen to you?”
“But you’re my girlfriend…your body is mine”
“It’s not rape, we are married, that means I can have it when I want”
When scrolling through the pictures and reading the messages and quotes presented by the women and men who have been sexually assaulted we are inspired by the courage and strength of the survivors. The photographs are both heartbreaking and strong at the same time and we are filled with empathy for the survivors and their struggles. At the same time, we admire them for speaking out and supporting others who are, or have been in the same situation. These women and men help raise awareness of the atrocity of sexual assault and how it is a crime that should never be forgotten.
It is extremely important that survivors of rape and sexual abuse are not seen as merely statistics and numbers, but are given a voice and are received by the community. The occurrences of victim blaming, when looking through the photographs, are nauseating, and remind us of how common victim blaming is. We are also struck by the claim to ownership of women’s and men’s bodies by family members, or in the case of many of the women, by their ex-partners or husbands. We should not forget that sexual assault within marriages has, until fairly recently, not been viewed as the crime that it is and many of the messages remind us of how common it is to for rapists to view other’s bodies as their property.
Project Unbreakable includes all types of women and men, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender and of different ages and ethnicities. This clearly shows us how widespread rape and sexual assault is and how it is used to punish, control and dominate.
Project Unbreakable is an amazing and important project that raises awareness of sexual assault. It is a great ground for supporting survivors and will without a doubt show the women and men who have experienced sexual assault that they are not alone and that the assault is never their fault.