In our culture there are few spaces for survivors of sexual violence to rise up, speak out, and change the conversation around rape culture and sexual violence. That’s why NYC activists and creatives are carving out a space for themselves.

Corinne Kai, a writer and sex educator, created the event “My Body: Not For Consumption” with Hannah Hackley, stating that the project is: “grounded in a belief that the issues propagated by rape culture impact everyone. Too often, femme bodies are objectified and read as “asking for it.” …We aim to show that a femme naked body is not an inherently sexual object. Our bodies are our homes…“.

Imagery is also a huge part of the project. This year, Corinne collaborated with visual artist, creative, and activist Yunique A. Saafir. Saafir had this to say about the images: “As a visual artist, my aim is to subvert the way society receives images by giving power back to the subject with a positive and loving lens. This exhibit is to urge society to consume images of victims/survivors in a way that promotes support and affirmation of a multitude of experiences, outside of the dominant cultural norms. In curating this exhibit as fine art, We strive to elevate bodies of trauma victims in a way that is not open to contestation. Allowing for validation of experiences that are not told in the digital mainstream narrative of rape culture which confronts this pervasive culture issue with an interdisciplinary approach.

This year, Corinne is partnering with Dixon Place to bring “My Body: Not For Consumption” back for another year. The event will be held this Wednesday, July 12 at 7:30PM (you can purchase tickets here). I had the chance to sit down and chat with Corinne about the inspiration behind the project and what we have to look forward to on Wednesday and beyond.

Photo credit: Yunique A. Saafir

WYV: Why are survivor-led events like My Body important for shifting the conversation and treatment of sexual violence in our culture?

CK: They’re vital in order to have a shift in how we treat sexual violence in our society. Right now, it’s mainly people working in mainstream media that are being heard on these topics and to be quite honest, they often victim shame and blame in their reporting on rape culture. It’s the smaller, less visible, more grassroots media that allows victims/survivors to be in charge of the narrative—and I think that’s what My Body is doing as well. We’re allowing victims/survivors to be leading the movement, in control of the conversation and how we talk about these issues.

Because of the way the criminal justice system and media portray and treat victims/survivors by not ensuring their needs are the focal point of the conversation, we need to prioritize that in the grassroots movements and events. So that’s what I hope events like My Body can help with ensuring that victims/survivors are at the center of the conversation.

Photo credit: Yunique A. Saafir

WYV: What are a few ways that individuals and communities can become more survivor-centered and trauma informed?

CK: There are so many great organizations paving the way, one that I really love is Breakthrough U.S.–they make sure that the messages they put out are queer and trans inclusive, diverse in racial representation and giving power back to victims/survivors. I would say if you don’t know where to start, look up organizations like that and volunteer. If you don’t have time to volunteer, then make sure you talk about these issues. Call someone in if you hear them make a rape joke or victim blame someone. Talk about why it’s important to break the normalization of sexual violence.

If you have young people in your life, talk to them about how they are in control of their bodies and when/if they want to have sex. Talk about relationship communication styles that are healthy. When you hear a victim/survivor tell their story, support them. Thank them for sharing their experience with you, it takes a lot of vulnerability to do so. Don’t question them or the validity of what they told you. Tell them you believe them and are there to support them.

Photo credit: Yunique A. Saafir

WYV: What propelled you create “My Body: Not For Consumption”? How do you see it growing in the future?

CK: I originally started this project in 2016 as a means for reclamation. I was so tired to seeing mainstream media only cover sexual assault cases that fit a certain narrative, what I call the “perfect rape narrative.” Too often, femme, queer, trans and POC bodies are objectified and read as “asking for it.” To fight the conflation of nudity and sexual availability, the first year we wrote messages on our bare chests.

This year the photo project was focused around changing the narrative of the shame victims/survivors often receive from society. Each model wrote a statement on a balloon that someone has said to them (i.e. “your fault, ruined, deserved it, asking for it) and at the end of the shoot, they released the balloon into the air. Many of them said how they felt a sense of relief and healing from this moment. Letting go of what society tells you your experience should be like, is really important for so many victims/survivors.

In the future, I’d love for this to grow into a nation-wide annual conference around sexual assault awareness and anti-sexual violence work. I’d love to create a space for survivors to have their artwork around healing on display. I’d love to work with other advocates to create space for these needed conversations. I think that people are often so afraid to talk about rape, because it’s such a personal form of violence. We need to talk about it in order to break this normalization of sexual violence.

 

WYV: As the project continues to grow, what are ways that you envision the community evolving in its ways that survivors are supported?

CK: I would love to see models built for community accountability. I’d love to see the criminal justice system change the way they respond to trauma victims and actually go into their work with the mentality of believing victims/survivors. In fact, I’d love to see everyone have the mentality of believing victims/survivors—that is so often why people stay silent with their trauma for so long. They’re afraid of the shame and guilt people will make them feel with their responses.

I also think it’s really important to talk about healing. The culture we live in now, especially in America, does not prioritize taking care of your mental or emotional health. I’ve had victims/survivors I’ve worked with be fired because they had a PTSD attack at work and had to take a 15 minute break.

When we create space for conversations around what healing looks like, what trauma does to the body and mind, and we actually allow people to process the way they need to (without financial burdens of paying for therapy or being fired)—then I think we’ll really be making strides towards having a more supportive environment for victims/survivors.

 

WYV: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during this process? What about the biggest challenges?

CK: I’m not sure I would use the word surprising, but definitely encouraging finding out how many people want to be a part of this project to make an impact for victims/survivors.

The first year for our photo shoot we met up at the Brooklyn Bridge at like 6am to catch the sunrise on a Sunday morning and it genuinely brought me to tears that a few people I had never met before showed up. They wanted their voice to be heard, they wanted to feel seen. That continues to happen as we put out calls for action for people to get involved as models or panelists—there’s a lot of people out there who want to create change around this issue.

I think the biggest challenge for me has been not letting my experience as a survivor consume me. I did that for a while, these acts of violence were controlling my life. But in a way, working on this project and helping others be heard and seen and validated has helped me heal.

WYV: Where can we find out more about you and the event?
CK: You can follow me on Instagram at @corinne.kai or my sex ed column at Go Mag. To follow updates about the project and where we’ll be having our next event, check my website.

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