Here are the beliefs, values and messages that not only shape the Monument Quilt, but will also, we hope, shape popular beliefs and understanding about sexual and domestic violence in the US.
“I think the quilt is empowering. It shows sexual assault victims they are valued. It is not their fault. I’ve worked with a lot of women who feel very alone in their experience. With this, they can feel supported.” – Hibo Jama from Nisaa African Women’s Project.
“Our community is not whole without all of the people that make it up, and as part of our community, if survivors are hurting then the community itself is fractured.” – Maria Bady
What if, instead of tearing a community apart, sexual violence was a tragedy and trauma that brought communities together? What if the public process of uncovering the epidemic of sexual violence healed the people most affected by it? What if, when a survivor feels blamed, their community tells them it’s not their fault? What if when a survivor feels isolated, we tell them they are not alone? What if when a survivor feels silenced, we listen?
The Monument Quilt is a tool to reconnect survivors to community and for communities to come together to publicly support survivors. Trauma is most often an isolating experience, yet these traumas impact the whole community. Building communities that can effectively intervene, prevent and eventually end the epidemic of sexual violence in the US, starts with building communities that can listen to, believe, and support survivors.
THE US NEEDS PUBLIC SPACE FOR SURVIVORS TO HEAL
“I’ve never been in a space thats been this public, where I’ve felt safe to say that I am a survivor and not expect you to run away. I feel, as a lot of other people feel, that when you tell your story its a burden, especially stories of sexual violence, especially childhood sexual abuse. So it becomes the burden of the survivor to figure out who to tell and how much to tell. And that can be such a painful process to feel like that facet of you is too much for anyone else to hold. So I think a space like this, with such a diversity of stories, is really needed,” Emily Sha
“If I had to sum up my experience of the quilt in one word, I would say the quilt was ‘safe’. As a survivor, my biggest struggle in life has been to feel safe. It’s been a struggle to feel safe in intimate relationships, and it’s been a struggle to feel safe in the presence of co-workers, or just walking down the street– I have never, in my entire life, felt it was “safe” to publicly express my grief, pain, anger, or sorrow related to the trauma that I have survived. For the first time in my life, I walked into a public space where it was safe to be a Survivor. It’s a life-altering experience that all Survivors deserve.” – Quilt Visitor
When we relegate the process of healing from sexual trauma to the private realm, we limit survivors’ space to heal and we limit society’s ability to transform. The Monument Quilt creates public healing space by and for survivors. The burden of sexual trauma should not be carried by the survivor alone, but rather carried collectively.
In the shelter, counseling and crisis center systems, rape and abuse are treated like private problems. Sometimes the privacy of these spaces is out of necessity, but often it is because we do not have the tools or platforms to publicly address our experiences. Survivors deserve to chose what their process of healing looks like. Not everyone is going to want nor need public space to heal. But in our country, right now, public space is not an option for people who do want it.
The Monument Quilt is one model to create public space to heal and improve community response in the US. We hope that by giving survivors, advocates and communities concrete tools to building public healing space, option for public platforms will continue to grow and multiply.
RAPE IS NOT A SPECIAL INTEREST ISSUE THAT AFFECTS A FEW PEOPLE, RAPE IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE THAT AFFECTS EVERYONE
When rape is talked about in the mainstream media, it is most often talked about as a problem that affects only a very specific group of people. Therefore, we hear about rape happening on college campuses, in the military, but fail to hear about how sexual violence occurs in nearly every facet of the US population. Rape is not a “women’s issue” or an issue that only affects undergrad students in the US. Rape is happening within our families, towns, places of worship, friend groups, schools, and communities. Rape is not a distant problem that affects other people, but rather a social justice issue that affects us all.
Everyone living in the US is impacted by rape culture and it is all of our work to dismantle it. Because of this, the best place to address sexual violence is in your own community. The Monument Quilt is an organizing ground and a tool for social change. It is not about “giving voice to the voiceless”, but rather it is a platform for people to speak with their own voice. We ask that folks engage in the Monument Quilt for themselves, and on their own terms.
SURVIVORS SHOULD BE PUBLICLY SUPPORTED, NOT PUBLICLY SHAMED
The people that benefit the most directly from the public scrutiny of survivors are rapists. We live in a country where it is safer to commit an act of rape than to publicly disclose having survived one. Social norms control behavior. While on the surface, U.S. culture might articulate that “rape is wrong,” the social norms enforced by our communities do more to perpetuate rape than to end it. Being a survivor is still stigmatized. While the overwhelming majority of perpetrators face no consequences for their actions, the majority of survivors who speak out do.
The news coverage that is putting rape in the national spotlight is also messy and problematic. Our country struggles with how to talk about rape. What we saw in the media wake of Stubenville or the UVA rape case, is that our young people, our news anchors and our country do not have the language to respond to the tragedy and trauma of sexual violence in a way that honors survivors. The silence around rape has left a void in our culture. We know how to publicly shame survivors. We don’t know how to publicly support them.
The Monument Quilt is a supportive space for survivors. In the space of the quilt, survivors are believed. Our experiences are honored, our stories are uplifted, and our grieg is held. As the quilt grows, it will forever change how people respond to rape, from a culture that shames survivors, to a culture that support survivors.
ACTIVISM IS HEALING
“Each time I write on my quilt, I feel freedom, peace and tranquility. I pour my love and support for myself and for others. I know I am not alone!” – Rocio Moreno
Part of the psychological trauma of sexual and domestic violence is a sense disempowerment. In sexual and domestic violence, one loses control over the one domain we should always have control: our bodies. Activism has transformative potential for healing the deep wound of disempowerment. To feel one’s own power is restorative.
“As a survivors I am not what is broken—what broken is this culture. When you look at our mainstream models for healing from sexual violence, they are all about healing the survivor, not the culture. I can’t change what happened to me, but I can change the culture that created my abuse.” -Rebecca Nagle
THE MONUMENT QUILT IS BY AND FOR SURVIVORS
“The Monument Quilt is not just commissioned by well-meaning community members, this project’s trajectory is dictated by survivors ourselves. This project has given me the strength and support to publicly say that I’m also a survivor of rape without fear of victim-blaming.”
– Melanie Keller, Baltimore Hollaback
Every social injustice is perpetuated by isolating those who are most affected by it. When people are connected and empowered, they can organize to create change. When people are politically and socially isolated, they cannot. Public shame and scrutiny isolates survivors. Confining survivors’ lived experiences to the private realm cuts off their potential to band together. Rape thrives on the silence of survivors and will die only after the pressures to remain silent have been lifted.
While survivors’ isolation breeds injustice, survivors connecting creates opportunity for change. Bringing survivors together is political. The quilt is an organizing tool and organizing ground for survivors and our supporters. The quilt is a platform to not only share our stories, but forever change how the US responds to rape.
The Monument Quilt is a space that prioritizes the needs of survivors. The project is also a space for secondary survivors and supporters to process how they are impacted by sexual assault and how they can work to end it.
SURVIVORS TELLING THEIR OWN STORIES resists the narrow and inaccurate mainstream narrative of sexual violence
“What I love about the whole project is the narrative of control by survivors. The diversity of the stories on the quilt show how rape affects all people in different ways. When rape victims are discussed in a non-blaming manner, they are generally young, heterosexual White women. The quilt squares made by male victims of sexual assault, people victimized by family members, partners abused by their intimate spouses, and other people we don’t often see discussed in media tell an uncomfortable truth. Recognizing these stories is one huge step towards ending rape,” – Melanie Keller.
How survivors experience, recover, survive and thrive through sexual assault is extremely personal and individual. No two quilt squares are the same, just like no two experiences of sexual violence. In the quilt, it is survivors who tell their own stories.
Survivors experience violence, recovery, access and justice very differently based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, class, citizenship, ability, age, and gender identity. However, the mainstream narrative of how sexual violence happens and who is experiencing it does not match this reality. Many survivors don’t see themselves and their experience in our media’s very narrow depiction of rape. Survivors whose stories are made invisible have less access to support, justice and resources.
The Monument Quilt seeks to create a highly public narrative of sexual violence that tells many stories, not one. Resisting and changing the public understanding of who is experiencing sexual violence and how it is happening is one step towards ending rape.
On his quilt square one survivor wrote, “It was men who taught me that assault only happens to women, robbing me of the language I needed to name and process my experience.”
When we see cisgender men’s role in the movement solely as allies or perpetrators, we silence male survivors. We must engage men as survivors first. When 1 in 6 men are sexually abused as children, carrying the assumption that the men we encounter in our work are not survivors is hurtful and wrong.
Our assumptions of who experiences sexual violence come directly from the rigid gender norms that create rape in the first place. To open the story of sexual violence to other genders is not only accurate and truthful, but necessary to uprooting the deep cultural roots of rape. A world where there is more space for men to come forward as a survivors, is a world where rape is less likely to occur.
QUEERING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
LGBTQ people experience higher rates of violence with less access to resources and justice. Over half of all trans* people experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
When rape and intimate partner violence is most often described in mainstream media, it is described as something that happens between cis men and women. Many survivors don’t see themselves in this narrow depiction and have a harder time naming their own experiences.
Because of homophobia and transphobia, LGBTQ people are more often targeted for violence. These same survivors are more likely to not be allowed into shelter systems, not be believed by law enforcement, and be further traumatized by encountering prejudice when simply trying to get help. These troubling responses stem from deeply rooted cultural beliefs. While there are many myths about rape in our culture, there is a set of myth that specifically impact LGBTQ survivors. Examples of these myths include that rape can’t happen between two women or two men, that lesbian can be “corrected” through rape, or that a queer sexual orientation is a response to past trauma (which is only true if you assume that queer identities are inherently pathological).
By LGBTQ survivors telling our own stories through the quilt, we are able to correct these myths and misconceptions. LGBTQ survivors can see themselves in the quilt and have their own experiences validated. Straight and cisgendered viewers can challenge their existing perceptions by reading our stories.
“In looking at violence against Native women in general, it’s important to look at the historical trauma and history of violence. The legacy of colonization has had a tremendous impact on our people for generations. Our Elders tell us these kinds of victimization were not the kind of behavior that was tolerated or really practiced much among our people.” – Shawn Partridge, Mucogee (Creek) Nation.
White supremacy and US Colonialism use sexual violence as a tool to perpetuate the oppression of peoples and communities of color. The racist tactics have deep, historical roots. Dismantling white supremacy and systemic racism is a necessary part of ending our current rape culture.
The current epidemic of violence against Native Women, has historical roots in The US government colonization of sovereign American Indian Nations. Native women experience violence 2.5 times more than any other ethnic group and 88% of perpetrators of violence against native women are non-native. If a non-native person commits rape on tribal land, the tribe does not have jurisdiction to prosecute the offender. The Supreme Court Case that took tribal jurisdiction away from sovereign Native Nations was not decided in 1878, but rather 1978. Current US laws and culture, tied to a long history of colonialism and attempted genocide, create the current epidemic of violence against Native women.
RAPE and ABUSE CAN and MUST END
In the US, we live in a rape-prone society. 1 in 3 women, 1 in 6 men and over half of all trans* people will experience rape and/or abuse in their lifetime. Rape is not biological or innate to the human experience. There are many human societies past and present where rape is a rare occurrence that is not socially accepted nor tolerated. Unfortunately, the United States of America is not among these. The specific epidemic of rape in the US is perpetuated through media, laws, policy, institutions, systems and culture. Rape culture is the air we breath and the water that we are swimming in. Rape culture works to normalize coercion and violence so that rape become “just the way things are” and not a problem that can be solved.
You cannot create a reality that you haven’t first imagined. In order to create a world where rape is rare, we must imagine that such a world can and will exist. In the Monument Quilt, we are imagining an alternative society where survivors are publicly supported rather than publicly shamed.
RAPE IS AN EPIDEMIC
“On the one hand it’s really overwhelming to see how many pieces there are. The sheer number and the collective pain. But at the same times its so encouraging to see how much strength there is,” stated visitor to the Chicago quilt display, Emily Sha.
“Community leaders stopped by to view the exhibit and commented on how astonished they were that sexual abuse and assault happen so frequently and within so many different contexts. We were able to use the event as a way to educate those in our community who were reluctant to understand the prevalence and scope of the problem.” – Racheal Herbert, executive Director of STAR in Baton Rouge.
In the effort to recognize the epidemic of sexual violence, we have become numb to the same statistics that have been stated (and not changed) for 40 years. The quilt makes physical those numbers. When you are standing in a field of quilt squares when you can read the depth of experience each square represents, you feel the impact of sexual trauma. Feeling that reality is different than knowing it intellectually.
When the quilt is on the national mall, we will blanket over 1 mile of earth with 6,000 stories from survivors of rape and abuse for one week. In that week, while we are honoring and grieving the experiences of 6,000 survivors, our country will be creating 6,000 more.