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Education

Project inspires art of healing from sexual assault

Tribune staff
Published:   |   Updated: April 18, 2013 at 01:54 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

As a first-year student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Grace Brown was out socializing when a friend dropped a bombshell.

“All of a sudden she just blurted out her story,” said Brown, an aspiring photographer.

The friend had been sexually assaulted.

“I remember looking at her and feeling everything inside of me crumble. I couldn’t fathom the fact that this was happening to so many people.”

Brown, then 19, spent a restless night and woke up with the idea for a project. She would photograph the victims of sexual assault. In the photographs, they would display on posters the very words their attackers used during the assault.

“If they had to hear it, then the rest of the world has to hear it,” Brown said.

Project Unbreakable was born. The friend became Brown’s first subject, and since her first Tumblr post in October 2011, she has photographed more than 400 people. Another 1,000 have submitted photographs of their own.

Brown brings Project Unbreakable to Eckerd College tonight, displaying her work and discussing “the healing aspect, the taking the words back,” she said.

The appearance is at 7 p.m. at Miller Auditorium.

Posing has empowered the subjects, Brown said, giving them ownership over what attackers used against them.

On her Tumblr feed, Brown acknowledges she is not certified to provide advice on the subject of sexual assault. But she has the support of those who are.

“Good for her. Bully for her,” said Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse in St. Petersburg. Making a bold statement about an attack isn’t for everyone, she said.

“But what it is going to do is let some people see this particular crime up front and center, in their face, to be able to look at it and think about their own attitudes.”

The Project Unbreakable messages on the posters are sometimes shocking, sometimes profane, often disturbing.

“You know you want this,” one attacker is quoted. “Honey, what makes you think you have the right to say no to me?” “You think I’m going to wait?”

Some victims submitted posters with disparaging comments from friends, even family.

“Even if it was consensual, people would still call you a slut,” one poster says, quoting one of the first people the victim confided in.

One even quoted her mother: “I thought you liked it when people (vulgarity) you,” it reads.

Last year, Time magazine named Project Unbreakable one of its “30 Must-See Tumblrs,” sending traffic through the roof.

Brown, now 20, says she isn’t sure where the project goes from here. She has been on a national speaking tour and has made several television appearances, but hopes to eventually return to school.

“Project Unbreakable will continue in some sense,” she said. “This project is so heavy to look at, but it is a symbol of hope.”


jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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