Amber Amour #stoprapeedutcate
Feminist Wednesday is honored to share the story of Amber Amour, an artist who felt called to share her story of sexual assault publicly through chalk murals on the streets of New York. Her work is colorful, inspirational, and deeply personal. When we learned about the work she was doing we had to know more about the woman behind the message. This is what we learned.
Being sexually assaulted is a hugely personal experience, one that people often keep to themselves. But you took to the street to educate and create from your experience. What gave you the courage to want to share your story?
I get asked this question a lot. What gave me the courage to share my story is the fact that I had been sexually assaulted twice before when I was younger, and I never told anyone. It took me years to open up about it. I had since become an activist and was very open about telling the things that had happened to me before. When I most recently experienced sexual assault, I began telling people immediately mostly because I had deeply regretted keeping my previous assaults secret for so long. In the end, I have found that speaking about it so openly is extremely therapeutic.
The first time I was raped I was 12 and I thought that if I told anyone about it I would be blamed. I thought I would get in trouble and that it was my fault. So I kept quiet about it to protect myself. The second time I was raped was by a friend. I was so shocked by what he had done to me that I didn't tell anyone for a while, but the moment I opened up to a friend, I found out that the same guy had done the same thing to a friend, just a month before. Both experiences taught me the importance of speaking up. If someone had spoken up before me, maybe it would never have happened.
How does educating through art help the healing process? How do you feel after sharing your story?
It helps the healing process because I get to combine my two favorite things: art and activism. I'm able to use my artistic ability to send a powerful message. Also, I enjoy expressing myself artistically. Every message I write is different. Some of my chalk art messages simply say, "#stoprapeeducate," some are longer, "I have been raped three times in my life by three different people I trusted. This must end! Stop rape, educate," and others are positive messages that I use to uplift like, "Love heals all."
I feel an array of things during and after sharing my story. Sometimes I cry while I chalk, sometimes I feel relieved, sometimes strangers stop and hug me, and then I feel connected and human again. Sometimes I feel alone. Sometimes I feel less alone. My feelings come in waves as I create. When a piece is finished, I always feel accomplished. Even if no one stops and talks to me, I sometimes walk away and feel like a superhero.
How did the community and the public react to this art demonstration? Did you find any support or solidarity in the process?
I get different reactions. I see a completely different side to New Yorkers now. I see them as sensitive, pumping hearts full of tears. I see them crying out for help as they stand in silence watching me. Some reach out and speak to me, others stay silent and carry their feelings with them throughout the day. I have had men, women, and children tell me their personal experiences of sexual abuse. Many of them thank me but most just want to get it off their chest.
Every so often, I have the occasional person aggressively interrogating me, asking what I could have done to prevent it. Some people who have approached me (particularly older men) seem as if they cannot fathom rape. It's as if they can't fathom that it happens or that someone would be so vocal in speaking up about it. One of the first times I went out chalking, a man approached and asked me,"If you got raped a first time, why did you put yourself in a position to be raped a second and third time?" I responded by saying, "Do you understand that 'no means no'?" He shook his head and said, "I can't understand that."
Thank you so much, from all of us here at Feminist Wednesday for not only speaking out but also taking action to share your voice. What advice can you give people who feel ashamed about a sexual assault that happened to them but want to speak up and share their story?
My advice for men and women who have experienced sexual assault is to tell someone about it as soon as you can. If you feel like you can tell no one, write about it in a journal until you feel ready to speak up. Go to the police and let them do their job, even if it happened a long time ago. And most importantly, if you won't do any of the aforementioned things, forgive yourself and forgive the person who did it to you and any other people involved. Know that what happened is not your fault, no matter what position you think you put yourself in.
Are there any other thoughts you would like to add? Ways to support you?
I just want to let everyone know that if you survived sexual assault that are not a victim, you are a victor! Stay strong and always look at the bright side of things. Don't let that experience destroy you because you a much more than the terrible things that happen to you.
If you would like to support me, please like my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/loveamberamour and be sure to follow me on Instagram to see all of my latest chalk art pieces @amberinternational. Also, I am seeking to share this story with as many people as possible so feel free to contact me if you would like me to come speak at a community event or school. For all inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org