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Project Unbreakable: For Shame

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Despite deadlines, demands and general downheartedness, on a typical weekday morning, I am not usually taken to weeping into my tea. Neither am I often seething with rage, nor humbled, or in awe, or heartbroken - all of which I was as I gazed at my screen this morning. The cause? This website.

You'll see on the first page a variety of images of people holding up posters with messages written on them. If it hasn't updated by the time you read this blog, some of the first among them read "I was a five year old girl that knew nothing. She was a seven year old girl who knew too much", "Don't tell your Mom" and "You're not really gay." All of the images are of people who have suffered at the hands of others, suffered in the most personal, degrading and corrupt of ways. All of the images are of people who have been raped. The quotes they hold up are the words of their attackers, once used so powerfully against them; whether to silence, to threaten or to absolve their attacker of blame.

Project Unbreakable was started by Grace Brown who wants to use the medium of photography to heal those who have been assaulted. Through the addition of the words used by the attackers it is hoped that some of the power - of the words, the attacker and the act - will be taken away. Rape remains one of the only crimes where the victim is somehow also cast as the accused.

Most other crimes are deemed to be black and white when it comes to apportioning blame. Nobody "asks" to be robbed, a short skirt doesn't infer a desire to be stabbed, yet these are often touted as potential reasons, excuses and absolutions when it comes to rape. These examples serve to show how deeply ingrained stereotypes are of who a rape victim is. Project Unbreakable shows us that rape victims are not just women; they are not even just female children being raped by their fathers. The website shows us not only to think beyond the stereotypical victim but to think beyond the stereotypical perpetrator too.

The bravery of these individuals astounds me. To voluntarily go back to the moment - even if only in their minds - reliving the fear, the pain and hearing the words which were spat into their ear, or whispered, or shouted, or grunted at them. Transporting them back to a moment when their dignity was stolen and their world view changed. In the cases of children whose parents attacked them, to the moment when they were swindled by the person they trusted the most, made to feel that "our little secret" was something special, or that they had done something wrong and must pay. Never is a price so great as that paid in innocence by a child.

The website is not about naming and shaming the attackers, rapists and abusers whose words we read. It is an attempt to heal, an attempt to give hope and courage to others who have gone through their own ordeals at the hands of another and perhaps it may also change opinion on the crime of rape. We have many campaigns and initiatives when it comes to proclaiming that rape is wrong, but perhaps we need to work on the many definitions of rape and the many "types" of victims.

Our media can help too - publishing a photograph of an alleged rape victim with a tequila shot in her hand will raise eyebrows and questions of her sobriety, which in turn erode her "credibility" in the eyes of many a red top reading layperson. Additionally, little is known and less is said of sexual assaults of men, and in our stiff upper lip and behind-closed-doors society, rape or domestic abuse between married couples remains a subject that is often only discovered when it's too late.

Project Unbreakable may make us uncomfortable, forcing us, as it does, to think about things we'd rather not, to confront stereotypes and to tackle issues that we usually respond to with a shake of the head. The brave people who have come forward to be photographed and to share their experiences have been silent for too long and in their silence was the echo of shame.

Project Unbreakable shows us that shame is indeed an apt emotion for these despicable crimes, but this shame should be the perpetrators' for committing the crimes and - if we don't enforce this, ours too.

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