Dear Survivors of Sexual Assault,
When my painting professor announced that our next painting would be a social commentary piece, I had no doubt in my mind what I was going to paint: a nude monochromatic figure, a survivor of sexual assault.
The issue of sexual assault has been weighing on my heart and mind with increasing gravity since my time at Simpson. Over my past two years here, I have encountered too many instances of sexual harassment and assault.
Beginning with the “He Said, She Said” presentation my freshman year, I listened to the boys behind me joke, “You don’t need fine motor skills to suck a cock.”
Shortly after this event, one of my girlfriends was sexually assaulted at a party. This same year, one of my sorority sisters was forced to give oral sex.
My sophomore year, I sat with one of my best friends, one of the strongest women I have ever known, cry uncontrollably because her experience of being assaulted and abused by her boyfriend in high school was triggered during class.
I have cried because I’ve been sexually assaulted, and now I am left to struggle with what this means as a woman in this world. It is important to note that this issue is not just limited to women. When I showed one of my guy friends the painting as I was working on it, he hugged me and said: “As a survivor of sexual assault, thank you.”
The painting is finished now.
I decided to be the nude model, mainly out of necessity, but also because I knew this painting would be more powerful if I was the figure expressing my own experiences.
The figure is positioned exactly how my experiences with sexual assault have made me feel: helpless, broken, vulnerable; positioned in the bottom right corner of the canvas, belittled and alone; arms wrapped tight around my legs in some vain attempt to protect myself from the pressures of this world; my head bowed in shame, feeling as though the incident was my fault.
The background represents the pressures our society puts on women sexually: how women are expected to be pure and yet also expected to be objects of sexual pleasure. The white behind my head represents the weight of purity, which society places on women’s shoulders.
The background on the left represents how all of these conflicting expectations of women to sexually please men and be pure at the same time ultimately leaves us feeling broken, helpless and crying. The white sheets swathed around my feet once again suggest the purity society expects from women and yet how these issues of sexual assault are far often too gray.
I choose the monochromatic blue to depict these complex shades of gray as well as encompass the sadness and helplessness survivors feel.
This painting depicts my own personal thoughts, emotions and experiences regarding sexual assault as a woman.
Not all of the stories I have shared in this article have been my own, but I have shared them because each and every one of these stories comes from a woman or a man on this campus. Sexual assault is a reality on our campus.
Our dialogue surrounding this reality is becoming ever more apparent and animated. Some have seen this increasing dialogue as a cause for concern, but this dialogue is a necessary vessel for healing and prevention.
As survivors, we must speak.
As an art and English major, I speak through my words and my art, but your expression of your experiences will look much different from mine. Each of our experiences will be different, and each of our voices will sound different, but we are not alone.
I shared my voice with you today through my painting so that you too may have the courage to speak.
Whether that be through art or words or theatre or math or dance or science or slam poetry or simply telling someone you are a survivor, it takes a great amount of courage to speak. I beg of you, speak. You are not alone.
Each and every one of your experiences and your feelings are real and valid. So many people on this campus are willing to listen to you process your thoughts, emotions and experiences. It could be a SARA or the chaplain or a counselor or even just telling your best friend for the first time.
If we are silent, this prevalence of sexual assault will not go away. We will not find peace or healing, and sexual assault will continue to be an unspoken reality, a reality where survivors continue to feel broken, helpless and alone, like the figure in my painting. If we speak, others will catch courage and speak as well.
A Survivor of Sexual Assault