A sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds, and a child is the victim every eight minutes. 63,000 children become victims of sexual assault each year, one in nine girls experience sexual assault from an adult, and 82 percent of all victims under 18 are female. These are just some of the startling statistics that inspired artist Karen Hawkins, who survived abuse herself, to start a large-scale installation – the Pink Bow Project.
The national conversation regarding Larry Nassar’s sexual assault of USA gymnasts caused Hawkins to recall her own abuse, which occurred when she was just 10 years old, and to realize the importance of starting conversations about this topic.
“It became impossible for me to move forward with any other creative endeavor. I knew this was what I needed to do.”
She was amazed at how people often try to silence those who speak up about personal experiences of childhood sexual assault and how many barriers young girls face in coming forward. As a result, many women do not share their stories until they become adults. Hawkins believes the issue is much more prevalent than people realize because talking about sexual abuse is such an uncomfortable topic. Therefore, many people are reluctant to discuss it, especially because they don’t want to imagine it happening. However, for change to happen, people need to understand the severity and prevalence of childhood sexual abuse.
Hawkins shared how she has remained a part of the Austin community for over 50 years, and although some people knew pieces of her story, only a handful knew the full truth.
Hawkins’ love for repetitive, large-scale works manifests through numerous pink hair bows, which she chose because they symbolize a young girl’s childhood. For the audio component, a crowd of whispers will greet the attendees and one voice will come forward. Karen’s starts off the show, “My name is Karen. I was 10 years old.” Other voices will follow suit.
In addition, Hawkins wanted to honor and acknowledge the women who have bravely spoken up. As a result of her work, other women she knows have shared their stories after waiting in silence for years and have contributed to Hawkins’ vision of creating solidarity among survivors of sexual violence.
“I’m attempting to bring to light how many of us, perhaps unknowingly, have this shared experience, ” said Hawkins.
Over 60 women have shared their stories, and Hawkins said women continue rapidly sending in stories. She hopes to have over 100 by the time the installation opens to the public. The average age of people who have spoken up about their experiences is 30, but women in their 20’s have also spoken up. Many of the stories she’s received have occurred between the ages of six and nine, but some happened in their late teens.
To increase awareness for the cause, Hawkins partnered with an advocacy center in Austin, Center For Child Protection. The installation will go up April 6-8 and will open to the public April 13-May 12. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so Hawkins felt it was important to have the installation public at this time. She hopes every woman who sees or views the installation will realize the burden is not hers to bear, put away her shame, and feel empowered by hearing others’ stories.
“Stating your name and the age of your abuse out loud can be very cathartic,” said Hawkins. “Even though I’ve dealt with my own sexual abuse for many years and believed that I had found peace and release from the shame that survivors carry, I have been very surprised by how empowering and healing this project has been for me. The burden that all survivors of childhood sexual abuse carry was never really our burden to bear.”
These countless pink bows and voices remind women they truly are not alone and can join together to raise awareness about an often ignored and silenced societal issues.
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