MINNEAPOLIS -- The reaction from people who knew about Sarah Super's sexual assault was a constant reminder of a culture that sees healing from sexual violence as a private matter.
Through her experience as an advocate, she found that many people preferred to stay silent or look away from people who experienced sexual violence, rather than acknowledge their pain. It was almost as if they were tempted to side with the perpetrator, she said.
Super is the driving force behind what is believed to be the first-ever memorial dedicated to survivors of sexual violence, kicked off a dedication ceremony Saturday, Oct. 10, emphasizing the importance of ending the silent suffering.
“This memorial represents our willingness to share the burden of pain, to act, engage and remember the reality of sexual violence that has happened and continues to happen here,” she said. “This memorial is a permanent public symbol that says to victim survivors we believe you, we stand with you, you are not alone.”
The memorial at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis sits along the Mississippi River. Organizers say it represents two metaphors: mosaics and ripple effect. Mosaic panels represent broken pieces that can be put together to create something whole. Circle seating representing a ripple effect is a symbol of the multiplying power to break the silence.
Al Bangoura, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board superintendent, called it “one of the most powerful projects” in the city’s parks.
“I’m in awe of the coalition of survivors, supporters and advocates who came together and persisted through more than five years to create this beautiful, important public pace in our park system,” he said.
Saturday’s virtual ceremony featured the Break the Silence board of directors, who dedicated the memorial to all survivors of sexual violence and those who experience it at the highest rates, including Indigenous women and women of color.
“Having the space as a public acknowledgment of trauma that occurred helps to destigmatize what happened and allows us to collectively move forward while also having a safe space to reflect on and heal from what happened,” said Anishaa Kamesh, a two-time rape survivor and Break the Silence Board member. “It is a form of community healing.”
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, joined the ceremony virtually and praised the existence of a unique outdoor memorial.
Burke said surviving sexual trauma is difficult on its own without stigma and silence, so the idea of a physical space for healing is innovative and thoughtful.
“People don’t often engage us from a place of power and strength and people don’t often engage us from a position of hierarchy,” she said. “The idea of an outside memorial is so, so perfect because surviving is hard and survivors are heroes and heroes deserve memorials. Our surviving should be celebrated and memorialized.”