It is often difficult for victims of sexual violence to speak about their experiences. But 3,000 of them recently expressed themselves through art. Each created a single square of cloth that make up a special project called the Monument Quilt.
Each square has a message from a survivor of rape, incest or violence. They are women, men and children from across the United States and Mexico. This month, the Monument Quilt was laid out on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. From above, its squares spelled out “YOU ARE NOT ALONE” in English and in Spanish.
The activist alliance FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture established the project. The Baltimore, Maryland-based group produces large public art projects to gain media attention and get millions of people talking.
“We’re a survivor-led organization,” said the group’s co-founder, Hannah Brancado. “We’re putting the needs of survivors first in creating a public platform for our healing. This display is the final, the 50th display that we’ve done around the country in the U.S. and Mexico in 33 different cities in the past six years.”
A safe space to share
Four years ago, one of those events moved Greg Grey Cloud to join the campaign.
“At that time, no male had shared their story until finally I got enough nerve to share my story,” he recalled. “Since I was 9 years old, I was sexually assaulted. But these women here at the Monument FORCE, they created such a safe space for me to share my story.”
Sharing his story changed his life. He no longer blames himself or feels guilty about what happened to him.
“For the longest time since, I stayed the 9-year-old,” he explained. “I was a grown up man, but I was a 9-year-old in my head. But they shared the space for me where I can be a grown-up man and continue to share what happened to me when I was a child.”
Kalima Young, a member of the leadership team, has worked with hundreds of sexual violence survivors and their family members.
She said, “Our commitment is to make sure that the most marginalized voices and stories are included.”
Through the group’s workshops in Baltimore, Young has come to see the strong ability people have to recover. She remembers meeting a grandmother, mother and granddaughter.
“The three of them experienced sexual violence from a family member,” she said. “Each of them was making her own quilt square. The grandmother had also brought along her grandson, who was around 8 years old. He made his own quilt square as well and it says, ‘I commit to being a better man.’”
Young says sexual violence is especially damaging to the mind. But she says the quilt-making process helps victims to recover. And it helps others come to terms with their own past.
“Often people who don’t even identify as survivors," she said, "once they experience the quilt, they realize that they have sexual violence in their history.”
Healing and empowering
The quilt shows have appealed to thousands of visitors.
Naomi Chandel Kumar walked around the quilts laid out on the National Mall. She said she was touched by the survivors’ stories.
“It’s really beautiful to see survivors standing up and not being afraid and being able to find healing in the community,” she said.
She added that it was also sad to see the damaging effect that sexual violence has on all communities.
Organizers say their work does not stop here. The display is just the beginning of the group’s effort to take the issue of sexual violence to the wider public, heal more survivors and push for change.
I’m Caty Weaver.
VOA’s Faiza Elmasry reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
quilt - n. a bed cover with stitched designs that is made of two layers of cloth filled with wool, cotton, or soft feathers
incest - n. sexual intercourse between people who are very closely related
platform - n. something that allows someone to tell a large number of people about an idea, product, etc.
assault - v. to violently attack (someone or something)
comittment - n. a promise to do or give something
marginalize - v. to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group