Finding A Voice

Local Organization, University Raising Awareness For Sexual Assault

Posted: April 1, 2014

Daily News-Record

Photographs such as this one will be on display from April 11-26 at Larkin Arts as part of the Collins Center’s 18th Annual Sexual Violence Awareness Art Exhibit. This picture was taken in mid-February, when Project Unbreakable — a group that’s featured more than 3,000 images of sexual assault survivors holding posters displaying quotes from their attackers — came to the James Madison University campus. (Photo by Courtesy Photo)
Event organizer and Collins Center family advocate Rhoda Miller poses near “The Hands of Pain” photo manipulation (right) by Sarah on April 11, 2013. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R, File)
During last year’s exhibit, the untitled work above by Cindy Minter was displayed. This year, the Collins Center’s 18th annual Sexual Violence Awareness Art Exhibit will be hosted at Larkin Arts. (Photo by Michael Reilly / DN-R, File)

The Collins Center has been hosting its Sexual Violence Awareness Art Exhibit for nearly two decades now, but the counseling center, located in downtown Harrisonburg, avoids keeping the event stagnant.

This year — for the 18th annual exhibit — the event will feature national name Project Unbreakable, and it will be held at Larkin Arts for the first time.

The exhibit will be something of a hub for April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities in the central Valley.

On April 21, a group at the relatively new event Step Up For Survivors will make that same journey.

The Exhibit
Project Unbreakable, started in October 2011 by a 19-year-old, has featured more than 3,000 images of sexual assault survivors holding posters displaying quotes from their attackers.

The mission of the project, according to its website, “is to increase awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage the act of healing through art.”

The Project Unbreakable team came to the James Madison University campus Feb. 17 to take 20 photos of student survivors.

Some of the participants chose to show their faces in the photos while others did not.

The project fits into the mission of the yearly art exhibit overall, which organizer Rhoda Miller, family advocate at the Collins Center, says is three-fold.  

 “One of those [purposes] is definitely to give people a voice,” Miller said, adding that a second intention is to “create awareness for those in the community who might not be aware of how big of an issue it is and how it affects those around them.”

It also functions to provide community members with information about local resources. The Collins Center, which serves about 600 people in the area each year, will staff the gallery opening, scheduled for 5-7 p.m. April 11.

The exhibit will stay up through April 26.

Local poet Angela Carter will read some of her poetry that evening at 6 p.m.

In an emailed statement, Larkin Arts co-owner Valerie Smith, wrote: “We are honored to host an exhibit of this nature, to be part of a survivor’s healing process through art, and to provide a safe place for artistic display.”

For more information, find the Collins Center on Facebook or call 432-6430.

Take Back the Night
JMU’s signature sexual assault awareness event, Take Back the Night, has been a staple on campus since the early ’90s. College campuses nationwide host the event.

The free event will take place this evening from 6-10 p.m. in the Grafton-Stovall Theater on campus and feature poetry and other performances, as well as keynote speaker Katie Hnida.

This year’s speaker is the first woman to play and score points in a NCAA Division One football game.

She was sexual harassed and raped during her time studying at the University of Colorado.

“This year, we’re kind of hoping for more of a mixed-gender crowd,” said Liz Howley, assistant director with JMU’s Student Wellness and Outreach, which organizes Take Back the Night.

The evening will feature a speak out portion, which allows audience members to share their own stories regarding sexual violence in a pitch-black room.

“The important thing about this event is showing support for survivors and then hopefully creating a more aware campus community,” Howley said.

JMU will also host The Clothesline Project again this year, which is a visual display of T-shirts made by students, faculty, staff and community members regarding their experiences with sexual violence. To participate, stop by Transitions in Warren Hall from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. today or from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. tomorrow.

Step Up For Survivors
 JMU is also hosting Step Up For Survivors, which was started last year by Campus Assault Response — known on campus as the CARE team — a student-run group that provides JMU with a 24/7, confidential intimate partner violence and sexual assault hotline, among other endeavors.

“We love being able to involve the community outside of JMU and within,” said Charity O’Connor, president of the CARE team, emphasizing that anyone is welcome to attend the event.

A time for Step Up For Survivors hasn’t been set, although O’Connor said it will happen sometime in the evening.

The CARE team’s hotline, which only serves the JMU community, is 568-6411.

The Collins Center’s 24/7 sexual assault crisis hotline is 434-2272.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or

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