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
Your first kiss was on a field trip to a swamp
You asked her for permission
Like you asked me for permission
But I don’t know what must’ve happened in between
I think that maybe, your ears got tired of listening
I wrote these lyrics in my muggy Tallahassee bedroom last summer, in the same room where I had been sexually assaulted the previous winter. I cried after I wrote it. It was one of the few things that empowered me after publicly posting about my most traumatic experience. It helped me stop wanting to disappear. I was finally okay with being visible.
It was about my experience with my abuser, from start to finish—except it will never actually feel finished, as long as we are both alive at the same time. His band played at my house, and after the after-party when everyone was falling asleep, he started kissing me on the couch. I let it happen because I was the drunkest that I had ever been.
Just a kiss is fine, even if I don’t want it, right?
Then he put his hand down my shirt, and I pushed him away. He asked if he could sleep in my room, and I said no.
Come on, there’s not enough room for me in the living room. We can just smooch and sleep, I promise.
I reluctantly said yes. I fell on my bed and moved to the opposite edge, my back turned towards him.
Why are you sleeping in all of your clothes? Can I take off your tights?
I said no, but he did it anyways. It went on that way for the rest of the night. Lots of no’s and I don’t know’s, too many to count. The next morning, my back stung from the scratches that broke the skin. I snuck out of my room and drove frantically around my town until he left for the next city.
Posting about what happened (after a few of his insincere apologies, and hearing that I was not the only person whose boundaries he had crossed) was almost as terrifying and traumatizing as the event itself. It blew up on the internet much more than I thought it would. Most people were supportive, but the few who were not still sting in my memory more than they should. I just wanted to keep others safe, but I ended up feeling like a target.
Where’s the proof? What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? She’s just trying to get publicity for her own band.
The vulnerability of it all left me feeling completely out of control for months on end. The only thing that seemed to offer any protection was music. Writing it and listening to it. I used music to cope for months until I uprooted my life and moved to Chicago. Then after falling into a deep depression, I realized that I needed more help.
I started going to therapy at Rape Victim Advocates, and I was paired with the best therapist that I will ever have. She offered so much kindness, and helped me learn how to heal. She empowered me, and also taught me how to empower myself. She encouraged me to record my song and post it on the anniversary of the day that I was assaulted. She helped me regain so much confidence that I had forgotten I’d lost. I just recently started feeling beautiful again.
On the day of our last session, her office was full of tears as we said our goodbyes. But then she came to my show that night, and I dedicated my song to her. I cried while playing it, because I felt like everything was coming full circle. She gave me a greeting card that read:
There will be setbacks because healing is not linear, but remain hopeful.
I will continue to do what I can to grow. I will let the memories I’ve buried harvest into something valuable—to myself, and hopefully others too.
You’re no saint, and I find you very frightening
You mispronounced my first name when you told me that you liked me
What about your cousin?
Oh, I feel sorry for your mom
You got away with murder for so long
Photography // Kelsey Greene