I have a fascination with serial killers. I love anything that’s murder, crime, or psychologically askew. It interests me. I’m the kind of girl that can spend an entire weekend watching MSNBC’s Lockup (even though I’ve seen every episode) and I will fall asleep to serial killer documentaries on Netflix. My party trick is being able to give the body count of any well-known serial killer and telling you at what age they began killing. When my boyfriend and I started dating, he told me after our first date he didn’t know if I was going to date him or murder him. I’ve often said that “I get murder and rape but I don’t understand cheating, pedophilia, or incest.” I put that in quotes because that is a direct quote from me that is thrown in my face on a weekly basis.
This sentence gained even more weight for me when I stumbled onto “Project Unbreakable.” Project Unbreakable is a photography project by Grace Brown, who started this project in 2011. It features photos of survivors of sexual assault. Brown photographs them holding a poster with a quote from their attacker. I started looking at the photos, and before I knew, it I was 10 pages in.
While I was looking at the photos, stillness … no, that’s not the right word … a quietness came over me. I felt like I was going into this other world as I was reading these quotes and picturing in my mind what had happened to these women. That might sound strange but after years of studying this kind of thing, that’s just what you do—reenact it in your mind.
When it came to the ones that were attributed to family members, especially fathers, I lingered a lot longer on them than I did over the average rough and tumble “you asked for this” ones. I didn’t reenact those in my mind; I couldn’t. I simply stared at the women holding the words and I wondered, “How did you survive? Did you really survive?”
It was ironic that I found Project Unbreakable on this day because I had just happened to be discussing the …
… Jerry Sandusky case with a co-worker. We were discussing his smoking habit and how it makes him a social pariah but people will defend Michael Jackson. Somehow that lead us to Jerry Sandusky and he turned a little cold. “Some people joke about that case and that’s fine, I won’t stop you. But I just can’t find any humor in that. It really upsets me. How can you do that? You ruined all of those kids. They are ruined for the rest of their lives.” I asked if he had played sports as a kid and he said he had. I told him that I realized that people that joke about Michael Jackson but can’t handle Sandusky usually have athletics in common. A bond with a coach is something sacred and to see that someone took advantage of that really upsets them.
So what about an uncle? A brother? A cousin? Your father? Your mother? I don’t know what that would do to you psychologically to have the people that are supposed to protect you, love you, and are bound to you forever dehumanize you and traumatize you in such a way.
I said before that I understand rape, and I do in a sense. I understand it when it’s not about sex. Rape is rarely a sexual thing—it’s an anger, control, power, insecure thing. My stance on sexual assault is the same as a lot of women’s. It’s never okay, you never ask for it, and instead of teaching women not to get raped maybe we need to teach men YOU DO NOT RAPE. It’s a simple playground rule—if it’s not yours and you do not have permission, you do not take it.
I’ve worked with rape victims. I know it, I’ve seen it, and I know what it looks like and what it does when someone you trust—a friend, a date, the nice guy, takes advantage of you. I’ve seen the damage it causes when a stranger does it. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences myself, and I’ve got a lot of emotional trauma and trust issues, I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I’m “a survivor” and that I’m “so strong,” but I’ve never felt that way. When I look at these photographs, I don’t know how these women could ever come out of something like that in one piece. That’s strength. That’s a survivor.
I’ve talked to my dad about my nephew and if something ever happened to him, i.e., if someone ever hurt him. I’ve said it to my dad and I’ll put it in print. If someone ever did that to my nephew, my niece, or anyone in my family I would end them. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I wouldn’t be strong enough. I wouldn’t be able to allow that person to walk on this earth, or sit in a cell; no … they would need to be extinguished.
Which brings me back to Project Unbreakable, and those women handled their life’s worst moments. They survived. I saw one sign that said “I forgive you” and another that said “He raped me for 13 years—I put him in jail for 13 years.” She put a smiley face on it, and she should have—she should be proud, she should be happy.
If I could I would hug every single one of those women, I would. And I would say “thank you.” I know that sounds odd, but I would thank them for being living testaments to the strength of women. So, to anyone reading this that is unbreakable—thank you, as well.