April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Of course it’s also Jazz Awareness Month, so I’ll assume that if you’d somehow missed hearing about the former, it was because you were far too busy listening to old Miles Davis recordings.
I’m still fuzzy on what designating a month Anything Month is supposed to do, exactly, except perhaps make you feel better about ignoring whatever it is the other eleven months, because you totally created that themed bulletin board during Anything Month.
But a group in Columbus, Ohio has chosen a slightly different way to mark the occasion… and I do mean “mark.”
The group, which is remaining anonymous but has connections with this website, has been marking locations at Ohio State University where multiple sexual assaults have been reported in an attempt to memorialize the tragedy while raising awareness of the ubiquity of rape.
Is this an awesome form of activist art?
Is it a sensationalist tactic that re-traumatizes survivors?
Opinions are mixed.
A local paper, The Other Paper, put it this way:
The local debate exemplifies a larger, nationwide debate surrounding radical feminist organizations—who has the right to speak on behalf of the women/survivors in question? Do jarring images promote awareness of sexual assault, or merely reinforce fears and existing stereotypes surrounding sexual assault? And should activists censor shock-campaigns to protect survivors emotionally, or do bold guerilla-style actions empower survivors?
(You can read the rest here)
There’s another article on the graffiti at Jezebel too; this one focuses more on the larger context of feminist graffiti art, such as that done by Princess Hijab and others, and if it’s actually effective.
So who gets to speak for the survivors? Do these images raise awareness of the frequency at which rape actually occurs (Dude, multiple rapes happened here?), or do they once again focus exclusively on the statistically insignificant amount of rapes committed by strangers (since you’re much more likely to be raped by someone you know)? Is the good they might do outweighed by the potential for triggering survivors?
As you’re thinking about all of these issues (and please, leave a comment, I’d love to know what you think), I’d like to share one more quote from The Other Paper’s article:
Rape increased in Columbus by more than 12 percent since 2006, even though statewide, crimes of rape decreased by 2 percent over the same time period., according to the F.B.I. crime stats. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2008 showed a decrease in the number of rapes in Columbus—that was before a serial rapist struck seven times in northwest Columbus during the last three months of last year.
Franklin County [where Columbus is] led the state in the number of forcible rapes committed in 2006 with 676, outpacing Cuyahoga County [Cleveland] by more than 100 and Hamilton County [Cincinnati] by more than 200.
Y’know, in the final analysis (and feel free to argue, I’m still parsing this out) I’m thinking the art is more helpful than harmful. Because if our primary fear is triggering rape survivors with reminders, there’s always Seth Rogan movies, ads for Pepsi, bumper stickers, t-shirts…
Hell, at least the graffiti communicates that rape is, y’know, wrong.