It is commonly known that sexual violence is one of the most effective methods of stripping a person of their agency and of executing physical oppression (hence why sexual violence is so rampant during war time). This is, however, not a linear action, once a person has that agency taken from them, that is not the ending, it’s not like life just stops there. People heal. In today’s post, I hope to highlight at least one way that people who experience sexual violence can reclaim the agency that was stolen from them.
For me, poetry was a way to reclaim agency. It gave me power over what had happened because it allowed me to use imagery and metaphors to illustrate and name what had happened, and in naming what had happened, it became easier to process and digest, and the experience no longer controlled me and my emotions. While my own experience with sexual assault still comes up and can affect my emotions, there is a difference between now, after I’ve processed it through writing and poetry, and then, before I had reclaimed agency through poetry and essentially tried to ignore the experience. Though I still have strong emotions about the experience, they don’t own me, and it’s different because I’ve processed what happened and the emotions are out of hurt rather than shame or confusion. Hurting, while it sucks, is not nearly as shitty as shame or guilt, and this is what art allows us. It allows us to process our experiences in ways that can free us from shame and guilt, things that often come along with experiences of sexual violence (often due to a social paradigm that is steeped in victim blame).
Art as a means of reclaiming agency taken away by sexual violence exists in many forms. Project Unbreakable a great example of this. Project Unbreakable, a photo series started by Grace Brown, allows those who have experienced sexual assault to re-assert their power and agency through it’s photo art. This project basically allows a person who has experienced sexual assault to take a quote or a few quotes that their attacker said, put those quotes on a large poster board, and then have their picture taken holding those quotes. It is a reclamation of agency because they are not only speaking their truths and acknowledging the violence that was done to them, but also because they are in a sense taking control of words that once forced control over them. What’s more about this project is that it really does great work at breaking the idea that only women are victims of sexual violence and only men are perpetrators. As one blogger from Feministing, named JOS, states “Most men aren’t rapists, some women are rapists; some people who aren’t men or women have experiences sexual violence”. This project really brings this idea to light. Here is the link to Project Unbreakable (this is really worth looking at, please take a gander): http://projectunbreakable.tumblr.com/
Does anyone know of other artistic projects which afford sexual violence victims a means to reclaim agency? If so, please share! I would love to hear, since thus far I have only heard of Project Unbreakable (aside from literary works such as memoirs and even those I cannot think of off the top of my head), and Holla Back (which seemed more focused on street harassment than sexual violence, though I don’t necessarily believe the two are mutually exclusive, sometimes they go hand in hand). Again, if anyone has any suggestions, please share! Also, I want to note that, though I consider myself to have experience with sexual violence, I do not, in any way, consider myself an authority on the matter (frankly I don’t think anyone can be an authority on the matter because everyone experiences sexual violence differently, and all experiences are valid and deserve to be acknowledged), so if you’ve got anything to add or a different point of view, please feel welcome to share that as well.