Project Unbreakable Gives Hope

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, It Happens Here (IHH) brought Grace Brown, 20-year-old creator of Project Unbreakable, to Dana Auditorium on Monday, April 29 to share the history of her project and the stories behind some of the photographs. Project Unbreakable is a tumblr blog that captures photos of sexual assault victims holding quotes from their attackers and has received nationwide attention for its promotion of sexual assault awareness and hope. In 2012, TIME Magazine named Brown’s project as one of the “30 Must-See Tumblr Blogs.”

Since the blog’s creation, Brown has put up over 1,500 photographs. The photos typically show the survivor holding a poster that contains a statement from the attacker, and sometimes has a reaction or a detail about the situation as well. In many of the photos, the survivor’s face is shown.

Brown originally planned to cover the survivors’ faces until she began getting requests from women who wanted to show their identities. She described her choice to open up this option as the biggest decision she has made in her process thus far.

As Brown continued her talk, she switched between giving background stories to the images and letting them stand for themselves. She explained some of the results she saw, such as similar posters from different people. Many women held the words, “I love you,” or “Does this feel good?” and many male survivors wrote that they were expected to “like it” because they were boys.

Brown then changed the mood of the talk, highlighting Project Unbreakable’s positive message.

“Project Unbreakable is not sad,” she said. “It may seem like it, but if you dig deeper down, it’s a symbol of hope.”

She ended her talk by defining the goal of her project: to make survivors respected, rather than pitied or victimized.

RD Jenkinson ’10.5, the commons residential adviser (CRA) of Atwater Commons, then gave a brief description of resources on campus for sexual assault support and prevention. Dean of Cook Commons Ian Sutherland added that the College recently hired a new director of health and wellness education, Barbara McCall, who will arrive this summer.

“The student life community at the College looks forward to working closely with Ms. McCall to develop additional programming on sexual misconduct, to help educate all students about this issue and to try to eliminate its occurrence in our environment,” said Sutherland.

Sutherland also commented on the effectiveness of Brown’s blog.

“Grace Brown’s ‘Project Unbreakable’ is extremely powerful,” he said. “The images are simple, the messages brief and profound; yet together they convey that sexual assault is complex in its causes and wide-ranging in its effects. I applaud It Happens Here for sponsoring events such as Brown’s presentation and for building awareness of sexual misconduct on campus.”

The students who organized and attended the event were also moved by the images, and lingered in the auditorium for several minutes to talk about the issues surrounding sexual assault on campus and speak with Brown personally.

“Even as a woman, there are things that have become so commonplace we forget that they are actually not okay,” said Julia Deutsch ’13. “You think it’s a grey area, but its not. You have a right to be upset.”

Sam Koplinka-Loehr ’13 described the project as “a powerful reminder of the tremendous amount of compassionate work we have yet to do to build a positive consent culture and end rape and sexual violence on this campus.”

Inspired by the talk yet also concerned, Thomas Bryenton ’13 spoke about the emphasis at the College on survivors and the need for a program that informs men more effectively. Kristina Johansson ’14, an organizer of the event, added that this talk should be supplemented with a more expansive look at sexual assault on campus.

“We have to be addressing these larger notions of female sexuality, of what is currently socially acceptable and what isn’t,” she said. “We can’t end sexual violence only by giving resources, we need to be working to dismantle social norms so that we can prevent it from happening in the first place.”

Brown is currently looking to expand Project Unbreakable by getting involved in mandatory first-year orientations and trying to cultivate more submissions. She plans to publish a book in the future, but wants to keep her immediate focus on her expanding her current project.

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