A young art student with a passion for helping victims of sex abuse has created a way to combine her passions, allowing individuals who say they were abused the chance to tell their stories on her blog.
Grace Brown, a freshman photography student at New York's School of Visual Arts, started her Tumblr blog, Unbreakable, in October, after a friend shared a story of sex abuse. Brown came up with the idea to photograph victims holding posters with quotes from their own attacks, featuring words said to them by their attackers.
"I've always sort of been surrounded by survivors of sexual abuse, it just happened that way. They always trusted me with their stories, and I was always the one they confided in," Brown said. "One day I was out with a friend for Halloween and she decided to share her story with me, and I was very upset, it made me rather sad, and I woke up next morning and I had Unbreakable in my head."
See a slideshow of the Unbreakable Project photos
Brown began by photographing people she knew, who had confided in her, and posted the photos to a new Tumblr and her Facebook. Soon, the photos spread virally and people were contacting Brown and asking to featured on the website.
The photos feature mostly women, sometimes with their faces hidden behind their posterboards, holding the signs with quotes on them. The quotes are often short sentences or parts of sentences, written in the individual's own hand, which cut to the heart of the violence of sex abuse.
Among the recent blog entries were women hold posters saying, "Stop struggling, you're only hurting yourself," and "No one is going to believe you anyway," and "Can I write you a check to keep you quiet?"
"The people who have participated say it's really helpful for them, it's something that they finally let go," Brown said. "When something like that happens to you, you sometimes share the story with people but no one ever really thinks about what is said to someone. That's one of the most damaging things, words. It's what a human said to another human, and they're finally able to get rid of it in some way."
Brown says one goal of her blog is to help victims feel less alone, and directs readers struggling with abuse to the Rape and Incest National Network for qualified help.
Katherine Hull, spokeswoman for RAINN, said it is helpful for many survivors of sexual abuse to speak out about their attacks and help others feel less alone.
"Many survivors say that they felt as thought they were alone or ashamed to come forward, but hearing from other people made them realize it was not their fault," Hull said. "Hearing or seeing one of these photos from someone who has survived and is thriving can make a great difference in people's lives who are struggling or are afraid to ask for help."
However, Hull warns that posting to Internet websites should be done with caution, and victims should always contact secure, certified professionals to get help first.
"This crime affects primarily young individuals, some 80 percent are under the age of 30, and nearly half are under 18. So it's an online-savvy demographic who may feel more comfortable in an online setting, and that's why it's important when you're looking for help online you're doing so in a safe manner," Hull said.
For Brown, the website's success has helped launch her art career and at the same time allowed her the opportunity to help sex abuse victims, a career path she dreamed could happen. Now, she is raising money to be able to travel abroad to photograph more victims for the project.
"The only word I have is 'surreal,'" she said. "I never imagined it would get to be like this. I'm so amazed that it is, I feel as though I'm doing a life's work in a matter of months. My career could end tomorrow and I still feel very fulfilled."