"By the time I am done, no one will want you. I will break you."
"It's cute how you resist like that, acting like you don't want it."
Those two phrases were part of a litany of quotes from more than 400 men and women to illustrate the vast array of sexual assault experiences on the Project Unbreakable blog.
"The first few days that I was there it was really interesting to bear witness to people taking back the power that had been taken from them," said Kaelyn Siverksy, a former UMass Student and current director of Project Unbreakable.
Siversky works with founder Grace Brown, a 20-year-old photography student at the School for Visual Arts, to help empower survivors everywhere in a photographic project that enables men and women to share their attackers' words during the time of their assault. By sharing these words with the public, survivors are given a chance to own the words that once hurt them.
Brown said, "I created Project Unbreakable as a way of spreading awareness to an issue that isn't talked about anywhere near as much as it should be." Brown and Siversky work collaboratively to try and shed light on some of the many survivors' stories affected by sexual assault and rape. When asked about the photographic process and format chosen for this project, Brown responded, "I think they tend to really resonate with people. You can easily forget a statistic that someone rattled off to you, but it's hard to forget the look on someone's face as they hold their attacker's words."
Siversky and Brown book tours around New England making their way to as many survivors and schools possible, hoping to give people the opportunity to join the project and educate the public on the issues at hand. "There are some times when someone walks away with just a little more power in their stride. It's great to see the vast differences of people coming to us these days. As different as it may be, they all have this one shared experience." Siversky's experience, as a survivor of sexual assault and her anger over the misrepresentation of survivors in the news and the ways the perpetrators are represented byt the media, lit a spark to bring about change. "You're not talking about some random girl, you're talking about me," she said.
Siversky speaks about the imperative need for more support within UMass systems, especially one-on-one treatment. "For a lot of sexual assault survivors a group setting is not the best place to start it. That was my biggest concern; I needed to get myself private help. It wasn't available as much as I wish it had been." Siversky explained that she had been to many group therapy sessions at UMass but found it difficult to have the vital personal conversations that group therapy sessions tend to eliminate. Brown added, "It's important that survivors have access to everything they need -- counselors, support groups, and most of all, valid and correct information about their rights, if the assault happened on a college campus. As for the perpetrators -- I think more needs to be done when it comes to mandatory presentations about sexual assault."
Brown and Siversky are dedicated to spreading their project to as many platforms as possible. Siversky's ability to turn her assault into her drive to help create a platform for others to collaborate on has clearly given her the fuel to spread action. Siversky's attention to detail in the Ohio and India rape cases these past weeks provided insight into the faulty ways our reporting can become damaging.
"We need to stop the 'don't get raped' way of looking at it, and teach our boys not to rape or to objectify girls. I think that shift has happened but the conversation needs to continue." Siversky makes an important point, "These assailants are not monsters but they are the men we go to school with; they are real people who have real lives and a lot of people don't think they can be rationalized with, but if we open this conversation up to them, it could shift the way they see women."
Many survivors are using their experiences to help others move forward and create a new platform for conversation and call for change. "I focused on sexual assault for a really long time but it wasn't a healthy one. Just recently I was able to focus that shift from something very hard for me to turn it into something very inspiring and motivating. I've learned a lot about myself and I'm thrilled with the things I've learned."
If you are interested in participating by submitting in your own image, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.