“I CAN’T FORGET WHAT HAPPENED, BUT NO ONE ELSE REMEMBERS,” read the giant red letters floating in the reflecting pool beneath DC’s Washington Monument. “I’ve never seen anything like that floating in the reflecting pool and I’ve lived in or around DC my whole life,” an observer noted. “So I was very drawn to it. It was a beautiful message and it was a haunting message.” The words, written by a survivor of sexual assault, were displayed in DC by FORCE, the Baltimore-based feminist activist group (who you may remember for their awesome Victoria’s Secret prank back in December). Although their installation was temporary, it was part of a push to create a national memorial for survivors of rape and abuse on the National Mall.
FORCE spent Valentine’s Day in Washington DC as a part of 1 Billion Rising, an international day of solidarity for the 1 billion women worldwide who have been raped or beaten in their lifetime. “Memorials create a platform for individuals and communities to grieve trauma,” says Hannah Brancato, FORCE organizer. “The existing memorials on the national mall are places to honor the heroes of our history, to grieve the losses of violence, and for society to remember. When our nation remembers difficult parts of our history, we are better able to prevent injustice and atrocities from repeating. This process has not happened with sexual violence.”
Passers-by reacted positively to FORCE’s action. “Not all of our history as a country is easy,” noted one tourist from North Carolina who stopped to speak with FORCE. “And there is space for [a memorial] here. Just look at the Vietnam War Memorial.”
As FORCE points out, the statistics about rape in the U.S. are alarming: American women are twice as likely to experience rape in their lifetime than breast cancer. An estimated 65 million Americans are living with a history of rape or sexual abuse. Meanwhile, rape remains one of the most under-reported crimes.
“The sad truth is that these statistics are old news,” says Rebecca Nagle, organizer of the project. “We are quoting the same statistics that were used in the 1970’s. Nothing has changed. We all know that rape is happening. We all agree that rape is wrong. So what the missing link? Why haven’t rape statistics change in 40 plus years?
“Rape is treated like it is inevitable. Rape and sexual violence have not been treated in our culture like a cause for outrage, but rather as just the way things are. The missing link in ending rape is the basic belief that rape can end. A national public memorial would be a symbol for our country to ground the vision of a day without rape and carry it forward for future generations. If we don’t create a culture that believes rape can end, then without a doubt we will be quoting the same statistics in 2050. And by then three more generation of Americans will have experienced the same rates of violence and trauma.”