A photograph features white-knuckled hands gripping a poster that reads, “you wanted it, though.” Grace Brown first posted this photograph to Tumblr on November 6, 2011, officially marking the beginning of Project Unbreakable, an online movement she started to raise awareness about sexual violence.
On the Project Unbreakable Tumblr page, Brown posts photographs of sexual violence survivors holding sheets of paper that portray handwritten quotes from their attackers.
Brown, Founder of Project Unbreakable, and Kaelyn Siversky, Executive Director of Project Unbreakable, displayed many of these photos during their presentation in the Underwood Room last Friday night.
During her years in high school, Brown said that she was surrounded by victims of sexual assault. At age 16, she decided to make it her mission to try to end sexual violence.
“I used to tell my peers statistics, like ‘one in four women will be raped in their lifetime’ and ‘every two minutes, someone from the United States is sexually assaulted.’ That worked for a little bit, but then I began to notice that it would go in one ear and out the other,” Brown said.
Brown’s original dream was to become a sexual assault advisor, but her high school administration vetoed her idea for a presentation about sexual violence. It was not until her freshman year of college, when a friend blurted out her story of sexual assault, that she realized how she could combine her passion of helping her friends with photography.
“I remember [listening to] this girl tell me this story and feeling everything inside of me crumble. The next morning, I woke up with the idea for Project Unbreakable; I wanted to photograph a survivor holding a poster with a quote from their attacker. I put her photo and another photo on a website, and two weeks later, emails came pouring in,” said Brown.
“I had just started thisproject to bring awareness to this issue, but instead I had stumbled on a new way of healing for survivors of sexual assault,” she said.
Siversky is a sexual assault survivor who was featured on Project Unbreakable in 2012.
“I had been struggling for seven, almost eight years because of [the things my attacker said to me], and [after taking the photograph] for the first time ever, I felt lighter. I had been spending all this time carrying around the things that [my attacker] had said to me, and, unknowingly, I had begun to believe them. As soon as I wrote them down and let them go that day, I felt much lighter than I ever had,” said Siversky during the presentation.
Addressing the audience at the end of her presentation, Brown said, “Now, I can see it on your face. I can tell you’re looking at these photos and feeling the same way I felt as my friend shared her story that October night. It’s that timestopping, chest-clenching feeling of losing your faith in humanity. But don’t. Please don’t. Because Project Unbreakable is not sad. On the surface, it may seem like it is, but if you dig deeper down, Project Unbreakable is a symbol of hope.”
Siversky added, “There was something I found very, very inspiring about the project, and it’s Grace that came along with simply providing survivors with an opportunity to say exactly what they wanted to say, not demanding anything from them, and giving them a place where their story would be believed without any form of hesitation and any questioning.”
During the presentation, Siversky and Brown stressed the importance of consent. “[Consent] is not the avoidance of ‘no’; it’s the confirmation of ‘yes,’” said Siversky.
Mutual consent is what separates sexual activity from sexual assault. While recognizing that asking for and giving consent can be tricky, consent is a continuous decision, said Siversky. “You can stop at any time, and you can change your mind at any time. Also, if you agree to something once, it doesn’t mean you agree to it at any point in the future. Also, if you agree to something, you’re not agreeing to anything more.”
Brown said that social media has had a large impact on raising awareness for the issue of sexual assault and for Project Unbreakable. As the project does not include any form of publicity, word-of-mouth is the main way in which her project gained attention and popularity. In an increasingly digitally-connected world, social media has become a useful and important tool in publicizing her project and her mission. Project Unbreakable began as a Tumblr blog and now additionally posts on Facebook and Twitter.
Brown and Siversky were invited to campus through Women’s Forum, who discovered the project through the “Feminism at Andover” Facebook page.