Survivors of rape and sexual assault often have trouble healing emotionally because talking about the experience is difficult. They often experience guilt, shame, and depression when family, friends, health care professionals, and even law enforcement ask questions like: "Why didn't you run?" "Why didn't you scream?" or "Didn't you fight back?"
Local artist Sharon Locke says she wants to give survivors a way to boost awareness about sexual assault, while helping them heal through self-expression.
Locke, in conjunction with the Rape Crisis Service of Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region, is creating "Survivors of Sexual Assault." The exhibit will be a 25-foot freestanding structure featuring black-and-white photos of survivors' hands. Participants were asked to use their hands to express their trauma.
"Hands are so expressive," Locke says. "One woman held a class ring, another held seven black roses."
Locke, who is a rape survivor, says the project and a similar earlier work came out of her own experience.
"The public doesn't understand how much this happens and how devastating it is," she says. "I did start carrying a gun and I was eventually talked out of doing that. I got a German shepherd and I went to therapy, but you never forget it. The trauma never goes away."
Rape is about power and control — the sense of owning someone, says Jeff Pier, program manager for the Rape Crisis Service. Encouraging survivors to report the crime to police would help reduce its occurrence, but many people don't want to talk to law enforcement for a variety of reasons. Only about 30 percent of people who have been raped or assaulted come forward, Pier says.
"The worst part is that means about 70 percent never receive the help they need," he says.
Public records for New York State show 156 reported rapes in Monroe County in 2012. But the Rape Crisis Service's hotline — (585) 546-2777 — received more than 2,500 calls last year, Pier says. More than 1,500 of those callers received treatment either at the service, which is free, or at a local hospital, he says.
Locke and Planned Parenthood received a $4,500 grant from the Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester to create the Survivors of Sexual Assault exhibit. And Locke is still photographing survivors. For more information, email Locke at email@example.com.
Survivors of Sexual Assault will be displayed in the Rochester Public Library, 115 South Avenue, in September.
"My hope is that the more survivors hear about this, the more it will encourage them to come forward," Locke says. "We've got to talk about this."