This post and the link it takes you to comes with a big trigger warning for use of the words of sexual attackers.
Late last year, Grace Brown started an art project called Project Unbreakable. It involves photographing men and women holding posters which contain something that their attacker/s said to them immediately before, during, or after their attack. Some are concealed behind the poster. Some stare back at the camera, clear-eyed and challenging. This intervenes in the usual focus of rape stories – the survivor, or more particularly, their behaviour, their dress, their manner, their everything-else – a focus that is calibrated to create the gendered dynamics of shame and responsibilisation.
Instead, this approach centres the attacker, and in so doing, it also centres rape culture. Instead of treating rape as a moment that is radically incomprehensible, these images demonstrate precisely how comprehensible they are, because they draw on tropes that are found everywhere. There are some accounts of those who could be easily named as monsters, angry, vengeful and openly malicious and hateful, even as they echo very dominant ways of talking about women… but there are also other examples that show rape as the horror that results a sense of entitlement to access to the bodies of others where that access is coded as love, or as trust, or as a demonstration of a special relationship.
After she posted the photos online, Grace Brown started to receive thousands of images of people holding signs with the words of their attackers written on them. There is now an enormous backlog that she is struggling to keep up with (emotionally as well as administratively). She is also expanding Project Unbreakable, using Kickstarter to fund a tour around the USA, taking more portraits of survivors. But really, if you can manage it, you should just go and check it out. It’s quite an amazing set of works.