When Grace Brown was in high school, her grandfather made a proposal that would live in the back of her mind for years. “It wasn’t rape. It wasn’t even physical,” she writes. “I didn’t realize I was a victim until two and a half years later.” So she kept quiet — until now, joining her own crusade to help sexual abuse survivors release the words that haunt them.
An art student in New York, Grace, 19, launched Project Unbreakable back in October as a way to “spread light, awareness, and healing” for victims of sexual abuse. She photographs survivors who hold hand-written signs that quote things their attackers told them — threats, coercion, justification and shaming accusations. Subjects boldly face the camera, almost as if to prove that the words aren’t a part of them anymore, that the shame belongs to their attackers, not themselves.
Sometimes, readers send in their own photos, like this picture of a sign:
Or this young woman holding a poster with no words. The caption: “I am holding a black sign because I was unconscious when I was raped.”
Or this young man, who was repeatedly raped as a little boy and was told, “I wish you were a girl.”
The range of confessions is staggering — even more so considering that these photos and signs only scratch the surface. Every two minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted, and 80 percent of the victims are under age 30 (source: RAINN). Grace doesn’t assume the role of crisis counselor or therapist; in fact, she’s quick to refer commenters to professional services when appropriate. She is the artist and storyteller, but she is also aware of the responsibility that goes along with her work; so last month, having witnessed her subjects’ gratitude, validation, relief and healing, Grace decided to stand in front of the camera for a change, to join the community she’s helped to create. The result is yet another snapshot of courage, the picture of a young person breaking her silence, but never her spirit.
Grace publishes every submission; photos can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. She also takes photos in NYC, MA, NJ or Washington DC. If you are interested in participating, shoot her an email. Please click on the links below for more information on how you can help — and how you can access help — in the fight against sexual abuse.
Contact RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline to report an incident or concern to professionals who can help.
The Rape Abuse And Incest National Network (RAINN) has tons of ways for you to get involved. Check them out.