Planning is underway to bring the nation’s first permanent monument honoring sexual assault survivors to Boom Island Park. With the support of several local community groups and donors from outside the Twin Cities area, Survivors’ Memorial organizers have raised $622,000 of the $650,000 needed to construct the monument.
Sexual assault happens everywhere, and Minnesota has been a leader in our country’s slow march toward accountability and prevention. The first battered woman’s shelter in the country opened in St. Paul in 1973. In 1980, a small group of women in Duluth blended feminist theory and criminal justice practices in a new approach to ending violence against women, and the Duluth Model is now the most popular domestic intervention approach nationwide.
“I think this is a physical place that is going to be unique,” said Sarah Super, founder of the memorial and the survivor’s support group, Break the Silence. “And I think it starts to introduce a concept of community based healing that hasn’t been used around the issue of healing from sexual violence.”
Super is a survivor herself. In February 2015 she was raped by ex-boyfriend Alec Neal, who broke into her home and assaulted her at knifepoint. Super quickly deduced that there was significance in sharing her story: she reached out to reporters six weeks after her rape to be publicly identified as the victim in Neal’s case. What followed was a flood of support, and her first glimpse of a displaced community of survivors with no community-based framework to help navigate their traumatic experiences.
Prior to her own assault, Super didn’t know of anyone in her life who had been raped. When she saw that her story had the power to unleash community conversation, she started Break the Silence to create a supportive environment for everyone to share their stories. While her new organization quickly fortified a group that had never before benefited from community healing, Super also noticed that there was no permanent location for victims to come together and honor their experiences.
“I wanted to create a space where people could go to talk about their suffering and to also find a place that felt healing,” said Super. “A physical place that felt momentous, that isn’t buried away in a neighborhood.”
In June of 2015, accompanied by other survivors, Super went to the Minneapolis Park Board’s Open Minutes to pitch the idea of a survivors memorial in Boom Island Park. She then began connecting with neighborhood associations to gather support and field community considerations. She also connected with Lori Greene, a survivor and local mosaic artist who wanted to emulate the shattered-yet-whole reality for survivors through mosaics placed at the memorial. In December 2015, the artwork was approved, and in July 2017 Park Commissioners unanimously voted to approve the proposal. Since then, the Park Board also approved a $160,000 donation to the project’s creation, and Super and her team have been working to raise the additional $490,000 needed to build the monument.
Many local neighborhood associations are supporting the project, including Downtown Minneapolis, St. Anthony West, Sheridan, Northeast Park, and Waite Park’s neighborhood associations. The memorial has received national support as well: Gloria Steinem, one of the nation’s leading feminists, tweeted her support after donating. Norah Shapiro, the Minneapolis-based filmmaker who recently released the documentary “Time for Ilhan,” is also making a short film about Super’s efforts. The hope is for fundraising to be completed in June, when Super’s team will go back to the Park Commissioners to plan the memorial’s groundbreaking.
The most important thing, Super says, is to broaden the conversation about how survivors feel as a result of sexual violence.
“Often times, people who have experienced sexual violence will refer to the lives they lived before this happened and the lives they’ve lived after,” says Super. “There is something that’s lost in having this happen to you. This memorial is intended to disrupt rape culture, and be something that doesn’t get buried in people’s unwillingness to see the truth of the pervasive nature of sexual violence across the nation.”
By creating a private enclave in a public community space, Super believes that these necessary conversations can be freed from the confines of a private setting, and bring the benefits of community healing that survivors need. Super also thinks the memorial will help those in the community who have not been personally impacted by sexual assault understand the immediacy of the issue.
“[I remember] how totally unequipped people were to acknowledge my pain,” said Super. “Nobody is accustomed to hearing anyone say ‘I was raped,’ and because of that, no one has put in the time to learn what to do or say.”
It is also Super’s hope that this memorial can inspire others like it throughout the nation: that communities around the country can look to the Survivors’ Memorial in Northeast and echo its messages elsewhere in other permanent locations.
“Creating the memorial is really seeing an opportunity that I can do something in the context of a rape culture, in the context of a broken justice system, or a system that was never meant to work for certain people,” said Super. “This is one thing I could do in the midst of all those broken things.”
You can donate to the Survivors’ Memorial by visiting http://www.survivorsmemorial.org/donate.
What is The Duluth Model? (from www.theduluthmodel.org)
Since the early 1980s, Duluth—a small community in northern Minnesota—has been an innovator of ways to hold batterers accountable and keep victims safe. The “Duluth Model” is an ever evolving way of thinking about how a community works together to end domestic violence.
A community using the Duluth Model approach:
• Has taken the blame off the victim and placed the accountability for abuse on the offender.
• Has shared policies and procedures for holding offenders accountable and keeping victims safe across all agencies in the criminal and civil justice systems from 911 to the courts.
• Prioritizes the voices and experiences of women who experience battering in the creation of those policies and procedures.
• Believes that battering is a pattern of actions used to intentionally control or dominate an intimate partner and actively works to change societal conditions that support men’s use of tactics of power and control over women.
• Offers change opportunities for offenders through court-ordered educational groups for batterers.
• Has ongoing discussions between criminal and civil justice agencies, community members and victims to close gaps and improve the community’s response to battering.
Below: A rendering of the final project, provided by Damon Farber Landscape Architects.