How Project Unbreakable Is Helping Me Tell The Truth About Sexual Assault

In case you couldn't tell, this post may be triggering.

May 7, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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Browsing the Project Unbreakable Tumblr is not exactly a cheery way to spend a Monday morning. But I'm still glad I discovered the photography project, created by 19-year-old photographer Grace Brown, in which she shoots survivors of sexual assault holding a poster with a quote from their attacker.

She accepts submissions, too. But when I sat down with my paper and Sharpie marker, I wasn't sure where to begin. Not exactly the situation where you want to have a surplus of options.

I've discussed my rape a lot on this site; what I haven't explicitly done is add an "s" to admit that I have survived rapes, plural. To be raped once, after all, is understandable, but to have been assaulted multiple times...well, a girl starts to seem incautious.

Which of course, I was. As a young girl, I was sexually precocious with poor boundaries. I hung around with strange older men because I wanted their attention, and thusly, their love. As a young adult, I drank and used drugs to the point of blackout, went strange places with strange people, walked alone late at night without my wits about me.

Still, the only times I was raped were when the man I was with was a rapist.

I have heard that once victimized, a person becomes more vulnerable to repeat victimization. In sexual recovery circles, I have spoken to men who tell me they could sniff us out, the women they thought of as "wounded wildebeests," vulnerable to their advances, unlikely to protest.

Each time that it happened to me, I felt that extenuating circumstances kept it from truly being rape. He was my boyfriend, I was drunk, I shouldn't have been there. I never believed that I had fought hard enough. I made excuses for the men who hurt me; I told myself "he didn't know what he was doing."

Because I did not call them by name, because I blamed myself, I lost track of how many times I had been violated.

Eventually, I became so detached from my abused body that I didn't bother to say no. I had no boundaries to enforce around my physical self. I couldn't think of a reason not to let anyone do whatever they wanted to it. All the times I let a stranger use me simply because it was what I knew weren't rape, but they were aftershocks of rape, the outermost ripples on the pond.

And as is often the case in women with my trauma history, I was groomed for predators as a child by my father's emotional distance punctuated with non-physical but deeply confusing sexual impropriety.

For the project, I drew on 4 experiences, but my number is higher -- 8, maybe 10. Statutory rapes when I wasn't able to understand emotionally that the 30-year-old man I was having sex with didn't "love" me, times when I passed out drunk somewhere and don't even know what happened, or was too intoxicated to stop it. Times when I wasn't penetrated, but was touched against my will or forced to help the perpetrator have an orgasm before he would let me leave.

I have been scared to admit my number is so high -- in fact, I have more than once "rolled" experiences into one another to make them seem more believable, ala numbers 1 and 2, which involved one of the same boys. But when I came across this entry, with its 1991 and 2006 entries, I decided Project Unbreakable was a safe place to be honest about my experiences.

It may be difficult to believe. It was more difficult to live.

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He was my best friend’s boyfriend, and he took my virginity when I had not yet decided to give it. Still a Christian, I was saving myself for marriage. He took advantage of my crush on him, the fact that I was willing to come over later at night, and the fact that I wanted to kiss him. He ignored me when I said no and I felt ashamed that my inexperienced body responded. It was the first time a boy ever told me I was beautiful, and I remember the unexpected shock of those words as well as I remember the weight of his arms on mine and the too-hard grind of his teeth against my nipples.

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He and I went to school together. After the dismissal bell rang, we would walk over to his house. His friends were older; in their 20s at least. I can’t remember all their names. One day we were all playing around with a pair of handcuffs someone had found. But when I put them on, hands behind my back, no one would give me the key. Not everyone touched me, but none of them stopped it.

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I was 16 and he was 28; we met online and I secretly made the hour-and-a-half drive to spend the night with him. We began dating. One day I cut school, came over and we had sex all day. Halfway through, he started slapping me. We had played this game before, but he took it too far. I began to plead with him and he hit me harder. I said no, and he fastened his hands around my neck and choked me with eyes that looked cold. I believed he was going to kill me when I passed out. I came to and he was raping my ass instead. I went to school the next day with bruises on my jaw and broken blood vessels on my neck.

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I drunkenly came home with him. I went to the bathroom and threw up, then stumbled down the hall and passed out on his bed. I woke up with him on top of me. When I protested, he put a belt around my neck and covered my mouth. Afterward, he said, "You're not as bad as my girlfriend. She bites."

To submit your own image, send an email to projectunbreakablesubmissions@gmail.com. If you are interested in being photographed, send Grace Brown an email at projectunbreakable@gmail.com with the subject line "Photograph Me."