Reclaim Project: Emily

The Reclaim Project is an initiative to help sexual violence survivors to feel comfortable in their skin again. We're partnering up with photographers to provide these photo sessions in the hopes that we can help to portray female bodies as belonging to actual human beings, instead of objects. We'll be sharing lots of these sessions over time, each one paired with a statement from the survivor about how their experiences have shaped their body image, mental health, and view of their sexuality. Click here if you're a survivor interested in setting up a session, or here if you're a photographer who'd like to participate!

Content warning: rape, sexual assault

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For a long time, I didn’t talk about anything. Nothing positive, nothing negative, as if I knew where I was, was not where I was supposed to be but couldn’t bring myself to break away. I was young, I was in love, I trusted him.

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I’ve written many lines, gotten rid of them, written more, and let them go. I haven’t stated anything explicitly because there are so, so many things to say. To start, I am sorry. I am sorry to myself for having stayed so long, for having been non-complicitly complicit in my own actions. I can be and am sorry for things that are not my fault. I can be and am sorry. Empathetically. Emphatically. In empathy with myself, in empathy with others, in empathy without sympathy or pity.

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My first love, a love I had never experienced before, I was completely trusting and willing. I loved him, he loved me, we loved each other. Whatever the frequency is between very often and and always, that’s how often I ‘needed’ “just a little convincing”. I can still hear the words as he said them, maybe still says them to new partners. The phrase is ingrained into my mind and may never leave. This is what our love was. This is what love looked like.

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I’d wake up in the middle of the night to his hands on me, all over me, his hands on my hands on him. I would move further across the bed, he’d move with me. I’d move his hands, roll over, and still he came. Pressing me, crawling on top of me. In the beginning I would say no, I would continue the emotional and physical pushback. “But it feels good, right?” I keep trying and trying and eventually, this had happened too many times to waste my emotional energy on resisting. I learned to use my energy to move as little as possible so it can be over as quickly as it started. By this point, I’ve learned not to twitch, not to feel: to give nothing just so I can go back to sleep. This is what love looked like.

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I’m sorry to me. I am sorry I stayed so long. I know it is not my fault, but still, I am allowed to mourn for me, my body, and my self. For a long, long time I never said anything to anybody about any of the sexual violence in my life. I was ashamed; I thought I was at fault. I should have kept resisting. I should have said no more vigorously, more frequently. I often have dreams that replay the events of my day: starting awake, feeling ill to the dreamt touch of your rapist, to find them lying next to you, for them to try and comfort you, for them to try and soothe you, is a feeling beyond description.

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To have a life partner, a person you trusted so deeply, treat you as less, as property, as an object, it’s difficult to feel you have any value. It’s easy to expect everyone else to treat you as less and expect them to care even less that the person who agreed to care about you for the rest of your life. It took and will continue to take many many days months and years to find myself again.

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Every day I work to connect back to the me I know I am, a me that was suppressed for so long, a me that still lives inside and finally has the courage to push and be present. The courage to exist. I work to be my best self not in spite of these happenings, but because of them and within them. Sexual violence does not define me but I am a person that lives within the context of sexual violence.  Some days are hard, some days are very hard, but some days are easier when I recognize where I’ve come from. I am me and I am here and I am worthwhile.

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Photography // Kelsey Greene