“It was rape,” wrote one. “There, I said it.”
“It’s not my fault,” wrote another.
Those messages are anonymous, but the people who wrote them —and the hundreds of other sexual assault victims who chose to share their stories as part of a nationwide campaign against rape — have not gone unheard.
Their words appear on 4-by-4-foot, mostly red fabric squares making up an enormous quilt that is traveling the country. The Monument Quilt, as it’s called, is coming to Pittsburgh this week as part of its tour of 13 cities, including its base in Baltimore. Composed of roughly 200 of the large squares featuring messages from sexual assault victims, it is part of an effort to combat rape.
The quilt will arrive Downtown as advocacy groups congregate for the annual National Sexual Violence Conference at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel. The conference runs Wednesday through Friday. The Monument Quilt will be laid out on the ground in Point State Park from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Roughly 1,000 sexual violence prevention advocates from across the country will come to the conference to participate in a series of workshops, conference coordinator Joyce Lukima said. Workshops will address topics ranging from sexual violence in prisons to sexual assault on college campuses — an issue has been in the national spotlight this year as a White House task force and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have weighed in on how best to address it.
Several local organizations, including Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, will be represented at the conference, according to Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
And across the street at Point State Park, the group of advocates behind the “Monument Quilt” also will seek to address the issue of sexual violence through the art project.
The project is a campaign to create a public space — literally, a monument — to acknowledge sexual assault victims and aid their healing, according to Hannah Brancato, co-director of “Force: Upsetting Rape Culture,” the activist organization behind the quilt. It’s also to “motivate people to continue to act to end rape,” she said.
“They’re making a visual expression that ... can really bring the impact of sexual violence to light,” said Ms. Lukima, who is also the vice president of services for Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, which partnered with Force to bring the quilt to Pittsburgh. “But in addition to that, it can bring the healing process to light to let people know that although sexual violence can be very devastating, it is something that people demonstrate great resilience [after] and work through and survive. ... The quilt really embodies that in this very physical way.”
Ms. Brancato likened the quilt to the many monuments in Washington, D.C., built to remember veterans of war. No such memorial exists for sexual assault victims, Ms. Brancato said. The “Monument Quilt” seeks to change that.
“We believe that there needs to be a public space for [sexual assault] survivors,” Ms. Brancato said.
Force hopes to increase the number of the quilt’s squares, all bearing the stories of sexual assault victims from across the country, from 200 to 6,000. The group’s ultimate goal is to bring the quilt to the National Mall in Washington — where it would sit among war memorials and statues of past U.S. presidents — within a few years.
When the quilt does make it to the National Mall, the group will stitch together the squares on the lawn to spell out a message to victims of sexual violence: “NOT ALONE.”
Madeline R. Conway: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1714 or on Twitter @MadelineRConway.