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Project unbreakable: an image from marie claire, May 2012.
Budding New York photographer Grace Brown was on a night out with a friend when the conversation took a harrowing turn.
“She told me for the first time that she’d been abused when she was 14,” Brown recalls quietly. It wasn’t the first time someone close to the 21 year old had confided in her such terrible secrets. “It was like the final straw, it really got to me,” she says of her friend’s emotional haemorrhage. “I woke up the next morning and I had the idea in my head.”
Brown’s idea – to photograph her friend holding up a poster on which were written the exact words her attacker spoke while raping her – has blossomed into a haunting and growing cache of images that are empowering sexual abuse survivors around the world and helping them to heal.
Within months of posting that first photo on her website, hundreds of women (including some 50 from Australia) had contacted Brown’s Project Unbreakable to share their stories. “When someone who is abused tells their story, they’ll say what happened to them, but they don’t really think about or tell people what was said,” Brown explains. “And that’s often where so much of the pain is. I want to be able to give people a voice.”
Before pursuing photography, the New York School of Visual Arts student had considered a career in sexual abuse counselling, but she’s quick to point out she’s no expert in the field. “I’m 19 and I’m not qualified to give advice,” she concedes. “[But] I think that people look at this as a project that will talk to them and believe them.” Besides, she’s hoping to add a professional counsellor as Project Unbreakable grows larger.
The ages of survivors range from a 13-year-old girl (her attacker told her, “Close your eyes. This might hurt a bit”) to women in their 70s. Whatever their ages and experiences, Brown believes the results of her initiative are universal. “I think they can finally let go of the words that have been holding them down,” she says. “They can take back the power of what was said to them. I think it’s really powerful for someone to stand up with their poster and to say, ‘Yes I was abused. I’m getting past it.’”
For more information, visit: http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/.
RAPE IN AUSTRALIA
One in five women will be sexually assaulted some time in their life
A woman is raped every two hours in Australia
One in 10 women will be sexually assaulted by their current or most recent intimate partner
81 per cent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.
Calls to the NSW Crisis Centre have increased from 3500 in 2006 to 9000 in 2011
For help, call the National Domestic Sexual Assault, Domestic Family violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Jailed For Being Raped