Twitter users shared their support for survivors of sexual assault on Valentine’s Day by posting letters and drawing to their timelines.
The #SurvivorLoveLetter hashtag campaign asked participants to “flood the internet with love for survivors of sexual assault using the hashtag #SurvivorLoveLetter” and that’s exactly what they did, posting pictures and messages to their past and future selves, as well as other survivors.
Tani Ikeda, who founded the project in 2015, told the Press Association its beginnings were purely personal.
“A few days before Valentine’s Day – the anniversary of my rape – I thought about all the times I had wanted to end my life.
“But this time, I decided to write myself a love letter. This radical act of self-love was the start of a letter-writing project called Survivor Love Letter”.
The project has since blossomed into something involving thousands of people sharing love and support online.
“This year I want women of colour and trans people survivors who have been fighting so long against white supremacy and misogyny to feel seen and celebrated through love letters, portraits and murals,” said Tani.
“We are living in an era of Trump that does not recognise our humanity. I want our stories to be visible and for survivors to know that they are loved. ”
Catrice Woodbury, 24, from North Carolina says she was driven to write her poem to survivors by personal experience.
“It was unfortunately my first ever sexual experience, and it wasn’t consensual. I was devastated and ashamed. Now, four years later, I still struggle with it and feel insecure about myself because of it, but I also know I am stronger and in a better place since that first day,” she said.
“My assault also inspired me to currently go after a job at a rape crisis centre, and return to school for social work.”
Shannon Murphy, 22, from New York, has been an advocate and activist for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence for around eight years, and said she is “always looking for new initiatives to help send some compassion their way”.
“I’ve heard from survivors I’ve worked with about how Valentine’s Day is a hard holiday for them for a multitude of reasons, whether it be because they can’t find it to love themselves after their trauma, or they feel others can never love them because they’re broken or tainted” she told the Press Association.
When Shannon heard about the #SurvivorLoveLetter hashtag, she wanted to get involved.
“I thought it was such a great way to show support for survivors and remind them that they’re not broken, they’re not tainted or unworthy of love, but that they are the complete opposite: they’re so incredibly loved, powerful, worthy, and strong.”
In the shadow of numerous high-profile abusers being exposed and the rise of Me Too, the letters are receiving a larger audience than ever, something Amita Swahin, who has been involved with the project since it began in 2015, says is a “good thing”.
However, the 39-year-old said, “I worry the conversation has been focused on hunting for individual bogeymen rather than unearthing the systemic and cultural context of rape culture that is the underlying cause.
“I hope #SurvivorLoveLetter expands the conversation beyond individual reports about perpetrators and shifts the conversation to centre survivors – what we need, how to support us, how to ensure no survivor feels alone on their healing journey, and what we can learn from survivors in terms of how to end rape culture.”
As a queer femme born of Indian immigrant parents who has worked with more than 5,000 teenagers during a decade of community organising, Amita is particularly focused on the project being inclusive.
“The #MeToo conversation has largely focused on cisgender women who survived sexual assault and sexual harassment in adulthood,” she says.
“When you look at the broader issue of sexual violence, including childhood rape and sexual abuse, the picture is a lot more complex. According to the US Centres for Disease Control, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18.
“That doesn’t even include the number of Americans who are sexually assaulted in adulthood – including transgender Americans, 50% of whom will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The data also shows that populations marginalised in other ways, like disabled folks, undocumented folks, Black Americans, Native Americans, are more vulnerable to sexual violence.
“The national conversation on sexual violence hasn’t yet addressed these realities.”
If you want to see more of the project’s work, check out their Tumblr.