Three inspiring, timely responses to sexual assault

We need to talk about sexual assault.

It’s easy to fixate on the allegations against major public figures like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.  It’s much harder to talk about the sexual assault that happens in our own communities.  For too long, such conversations have been hushed.  It’s time to stop ignoring it.

The good news is that things finally do seem to be changing.

After years of remaining relatively stagnant, in recent weeks Google searches for the term “sexual assault” have skyrocketed, making the term almost three times more popular than it’s ever been in the past.

It’s clear what’s causing it.

But what can we do about it?

Here are three bold answers:

Serrafina Pekkala

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Artist Serrafina Pekkala originally did the photo project above in 2008 while at the Maine College of Art,  but she recently re-posted it to Facebook because she feels the work is more relevant now than ever before.

You can see the project in its entirety here.

“This is me,” writes Pekkala, who was raped and assaulted multiple times growing up. “The words painted on my body are actual things that the people who violated me said to me, and that people responded with when I tried to reach out for help.”

Pekkala’s pleas for support, she says, were often “slapped away with a simple, ‘It wasn’t really rape if he was your boyfriend,’ or ‘If you didn’t do everything you could to fight back, you can’t say it was rape.'”

For many men who are not used to hearing firsthand accounts of sexual assault, it can be bewildering to find out that it’s been happening all around us to people we know.

“This needs to have a face,” says Pekkala. “Against my fears, anxieties, and better judgment I have made this public so it can be shared… I don’t know what else I can do but share my story.”

Pekkala is proud of the strides that she’s made over the years to recover from the traumas that she’s experienced, but these days, she tells me, she feels less safe than ever.

When she originally did the piece back in 2008, she says, “It didn’t seem like we were living in a country or culture that would condone sexual assault the way it seems to now.”

“All of this,” she says, “has made me afraid all of the time again.”

Project Unbroken

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For the last five years, the archive Project Unbroken has offered an online home where survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse can share their stories.

The project is the brain child of photographer Grace Brown who was a 19 year old photography student living in New York City when it began.

One day, while out on a Saturday night, a friend told Brown her story of sexual assault. Though Brown had heard about a dozen stories prior, this story particularly affected her and forced her to realize how common this tragedy was.

The next day, she woke up with the idea for Project Unbreakable.

In page after page after page, the website presents a multitude of images, primarily comprised of photographs of survivors both male and female holding notes adorned with simple personal statements, many recounting experiences from when they were children, their ages marked in neatly curving magic marker.

It’s not clear how many of the cases have been addressed by the authorities, but with many, you get the sense that the victim’s post may be one of the first times that they’ve even come forward about it.

This isn’t Law & Order: SVU.  Ice-T is not about to hunt their perpetrators down.

This is real life.

Justice is rare.

Can it really be that the most support our society has to offer these victims of heinous abuse is the opportunity to post a selfie?

Yet, despite how bleak the situation is, ultimately, the site isn’t particularly heavy handed or despairing.

The stories may be beyond grim, but I love how many of the people scrawled the hashtag “#unbreakable” on their signs, proudly defying their abusers and pushing forward with their lives, unbroken, confidant and hopeful.

Unite-Here Local 1 – “Hands Off Pants On” Campaign

When I first heard the name of the new “Hands Off Pants On” campaign that workers in Chicago’s hospitality industry have begun organizing, the name almost sounded silly.

Then I started looking at the statistics.

49% of housekeepers surveyed have had guest(s) expose themselves, flash them, or answer the door naked.

65% of casino cocktail servers surveyed have had a guest grope, pinch or grab them or try to touch them in an unwelcome way.

This isn’t a joke.  This is awful.

I love how the workers are responding as a union.

They’re working on passing practical legislation that would require hotels and casinos to ban guests who expose themselves and that would mandate that the hotels provide all of their staff members with a “panic button,” which they can use to summon security at any time.

I also love the video that the workers put together (posted above) that features all these tough Chicago union guys reading testimony from women workers who’ve experienced this kind of harassment.

These guys aren’t ignoring the issue.  They aren’t raging, half in the bag, looking to go break the perpetrator’s face in with a bat.  They’re reading.  Listening.  Reflecting quietly.  Standing strong in solidarity with the women in their community.

We need more of that.

It’s tempting to think that Portland’s hotels aren’t like those in Chicago.  That this doesn’t happen here.  But, I bet it does.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?


To find sexual assault crisis services and support near you, check out the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s List of Member Centers.



Rob Korobkin

About Rob Korobkin

Rob is a software engineer, community organizer, teacher and musician. He can often be found at Peloton Labs, staring at his laptop, drafting diatribes and programming software late into the night.