This past weekend, a group of sexual assault prevention activists blanketed the National Mall with survivors’ stories of rape and abuse, erecting a makeshift monument out of 100 quilts. The public display in the nation’s capital was part of a project called the “The Monument Quilt,” which seeks to honor rape victims by creating a public space for healing.
Each individual quilt tells a different story of sexual violence that may not have previously been aired in such a public way. Some are detailed recounts about the abuse that a survivor faced, while others are messages of support and understanding from allies.
For instance, one story reads, “The last time I saw my step dad in person he gave me a bunch of DVD’s. Home movies he had paid someone to transfer from tape. I watched them like a detective. I want to know what day it was, what room we were in, what time of year. What was I wearing? How did it start? I want the certainty of a memory that plays like a movie. I can feel what happened — when sex gets close to it — in a very specific way. The weight of a body, the smell of alcohol on someone’s breath. The panic inside my muscles. Fear. Paralysis. My body remembers.”
Other quilt squares contain single sentences or phrases about consent and victim blaming:
The project was spearheaded by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a feminist activist group based out of Baltimore. FORCE is known for its creative campaigns to get people talking about rape and consent. In 2012, the group played a widely publicized prank on Victoria’s Secret, launching a fake site that suggested the company was launching a new line of lingerie to promote consensual sexual activity. Last fall, it carried out a similar prank on Playboy Magazine, developing another fake campaign that suggested the company was promoting consent on college campuses.
Similarly, the Monument Quilt grabs people’s attention. FORCE estimates that about 300 people stopped by the installation this past weekend.
“The reaction on Saturday was very positive,” Rebecca Nagle, the coordinator of FORCE, told ThinkProgress. “Survivors talked about how they felt safe in public with their experiences for the first time. Visitors were thankful to see such a space exist.”
FORCE isn’t finished with the Monument Quilt; it’s an ongoing project that hopes to change the way that the U.S. public responds to rape. On its website, FORCE explains that stitching rape survivors’ stories together is intended to create a “new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.” The group plans to collect more quilts over the next two years for another display that will spell out “NOT ALONE” across the National Mall. Eventually, FORCE hopes to build some type of permanent monument.
“Our country is consistently hostile to survivors of rape and abuse. The Monument Quilt is at not only an alternative to the mainstream reaction to survivors, but a demand for a public reaction that supports survivors,” Nagle explained. “Personally, seeing a healing public space exist for one afternoon, I walked away with the belief that it’s possible and people are ready for it.”