This past weekend, I had the absolute pleasure of spending several days with over 20 of the most wonderful activists working to address the issues of rape culture, abuse and all sexual violence. I was honored when Rebecca Nagle, Co-founder and director of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, asked me to join The Monument Quilt Leadership Team– a project of FORCE. I reached out to her because I believed, and she agreed, that collaborating just made sense. Check out description of the work she and Co founder/director Hannah Brancato do.
FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is a creative activist collaboration to upset the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent. We believe that a more difficult and honest conversation needs to happen in America to face the realities of sexual violence, and we envision a world where sex is empowering and pleasurable rather than coercive and violent. To promote this needed conversation, we create art actions to generate media attention and get millions of people talking. According to the Huffington Post, “FORCE is doing a good job with a hard to digest topic, capturing the public imagination with their tactics.
The Monument Quilt is an on-going collection of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. Written, stitched, and painted onto red fabric, our stories are displayed in city and town centers to create and demand public space to heal. The quilt resists the popular and narrow narrative of how sexual violence occurs by telling many stories, not one. The quilt builds a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.
To date, over 1,000 collected quilt squares have been displayed in 22 different cities across the US (read more on CNN and MSNBC). As the quilt continues to grow, survivors, loved ones and supporters are encouraged to make a square. In a culminating display in Washington DC, 6,000 fabric squares will blanket over one mile of the national mall to spell “Not Alone.”
The HEAL Project’s focus is on addressing and ending Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) and within that, how sexual violence in childhood is connected to sexual violence as a whole. The work we do to end rape culture on college campuses, Domestic Violence (DV) in all family configurations, sexual harassment/abuse/violence of any kind in our society, are very much linked. The work I am doing is not just about abused children or adults who were abused as children. There is a bigger picture. Can you see it? Violations have the strong potential to journey through infancy, adolescent and adult life. It can manifest itself in how we create relationships, isolation, have more “tolerance” for unwanted sexual aggressiveness, decreased awareness of danger and emotional avoidance. These manifestations can greatly increase if you are LGBT, a person of color or a person with a disability.
According to The National Center for Victims of Crimes, A study conducted in 1986 found that 63% of women who had suffered sexual abuse by a family member also reported a rape or attempted rape after the age of 14. Recent studies in 2000, 2002, and 2005 have all concluded similar results (page 8).
Children who had an experience of rape or attempted rape in their adolescent years were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape or attempted rape in their first year of college (page 9).
My work and the work of countless other advocates for CSA prevention doesn’t begin and end with CSA– or it shouldn’t. The work that the anti-violence movement, anti-rape culture movement and others do, is not just about adults– or it shouldn’t be. Additionally, we must continue to work towards a movement that specifically addresses youth survivorship. Those voices need to be heard. Sexual violence affects us all and at any age. It’s time to think about an intergenerational movement to end CSA, Rape, abuse and all sexual violence. We must understand this trajectory of violence if we are to stop it in its tracks.
Research shows a significant correlation between CSA and adult sexual revictimization. The wider lifetime public health impact of CSA includes adult sexual assault, intimate partner violence, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems.
Sexual assault advocates, domestic violence advocates, medical professionals, mental health professionals, drug and alcohol counselors, and other service providers need to understand prior CSA as a context for later victimization, exploitation, and health problems.
Sexual Revictimization: Lalor, K., & McElvaney, R. (2010). Child sexual abuse, links to later sexual exploitation/high- risk sexual behavior, and prevention/treatment programs. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 11, 159-177. doi:10.1177/1524838010378299
For these and so many other reasons, we intentionally form this linkage in prevention, healing and overall analysis of sexual violence. The connections of our work from one end of the age spectrum to the other, will make our movement stronger.