Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 28, 2022

Project Unbreakable inspires students

By AUDREY COCKRUM | May 2, 2013

The Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) and JHU Student Life co-hosted speaker/photographer Grace Brown, the creator of Project Unbreakable, this past Tuesday evening in Mudd Hall. Brown spoke to students about the beginnings of Project Unbreakable and educated them with a slideshow of her photography.

Project Unbreakable aims to empower survivors of sexual assault by giving them a voice and raising awareness. Brown photographs survivors holding signs that display quotes from their attackers, or sometimes even from their friends and family.

Though Brown had sought to combat sexual violence in high school, she found little success in simply sharing statistics with her friends and peers. The inspiration for a new method of communicating her message came to her one night in October 2011.

“I was out with a friend for Halloween, and all of a sudden she blurted out the story of her sexual assault. She was fourteen, and she had too much to drink at a party one night, and her attacker crawled into her bed. When she told her friends what had happened, they brushed it off and said: ‘That’s just what he does — move on.’”

Though Brown had heard dozens of similar stories prior, she explained how this one especially affected her.

“I remember hearing this story and feeling everything inside of me crumble. I could not imagine the fact that I was living in a world where people were constantly being treated as objects. The next day, I woke up with the idea for Project Unbreakable.”

That following morning, Brown shared the idea with her friend from the night before, and that friend became the first person ever photographed for Project Unbreakable.

Within two weeks of uploading the photo to a website, Brown’s inbox flooded with emails from people thanking her for what she was doing and asking to become a part of the project.

“Those were the two most surreal weeks of my life,” she said. “I had started a tiny little photography project just to create a little bit of awareness for my own circle of friends, but instead, at nineteen years old, I had stumbled upon a new way of healing for sexual assault survivors.”

At first, Brown did not show faces in her photos; however, she changed her mind after a friend suggested that it be an option.

“That was the most important decision I ever made,” Brown said. “By showing faces in these photos, it puts a person behind a statistic, it puts a soul behind a statistic, and it makes it a whole lot more real and a lot harder to forget.”

Throughout her presentation, Brown showed her audience numerous slides of different survivors to demonstrate the evolution of Project Unbreakable. Another unexpected but significant step in the project’s development was expanding to submissions.

“Expanding to submissions was so critical because it allows more and more people to get involved, create a community and have a voice,” she said. “In the end, this project is not about my photography. It’s about empowering and supporting survivors.”

Since the start of Project Unbreakable, Brown has photographed over four hundred survivors and received over one thousand online submissions.

“From reading her Tumblr, I never fail to be impressed by her wisdom, maturity, insight and hope,” Ali Foxx, co-director of SARU, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I was so excited when Dean Boswell gave us the go-ahead to arrange for Brown to come to Hopkins. We immediately started emailing her to plan the event.”

Foxx and her co-director, Nassira Bougrab, hoped that Brown’s presentation would help to spread awareness of sexual assault on campus and create a safe space for survivors to feel connected and empowered.

“So many times survivors feel alone after an assault and this can contribute to our culture of silence,” SARU wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

The issue of sexual assault — especially on college campuses like Hopkins—too often goes unacknowledged.

“It’s important that survivors are believed and validated. We hope that through Grace Brown’s presentation survivors can have that platform to share their experience and receive support from their peers.”

Throughout the 2012-2013 academic year, Dean Boswell and SARU have been working especially hard to combat sexual violence at Hopkins, and they both believe that talking about the issue is the first step.

“The more we create a dialogue around the topic of sexual violence, the more students will be able to support survivors in their lives and the more survivors will feel comfortable coming forward to report,” SARU wrote. “There are many survivors on our campus and we hope that bringing Project Unbreakable to Hopkins let them know that they are believed in and they are supported.”

Ultimately, Student Life and SARU hope to create a campus that is free of sexual violence and supportive for survivors of sexual assault. SARU acknowledges that there is still much work to be done on campus to achieve this goal.

“With the new Safe Line, Safe Ride and the Coalition Against Sexual Assault, our campus is taking steps, but these are only first steps,” SARU said.

SARU hopes that Brown’s presentation and future ones like it will further make a difference in the way sexual assault is looked at and dealt with at Hopkins.

The auditorium was packed, and Foxx and Bougrab agreed that the event was a great success.

“We were beyond thrilled by the attendance at this event. It was incredibly powerful to see how many people came out because they care about survivors and they care about ending sexual violence. Hopkins is a place full of people who are going to change the world and we could not have been happier with the passion these students brought to Project Unbreakable.”

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