Minneapolis could soon be home to a permanent memorial to survivors of sexual violence, which organizers say would be the first of its kind in the country.
The memorial, 30 feet wide with a circle of benches and three mosaic panels, would be built at Boom Island Park in northeast Minneapolis as early as this summer.
The idea came from Sarah Super, 30, a rape survivor and founder of the organization Break the Silence that gives sexual assault survivors a platform to share their stories. The memorial, she said, would provide a dedicated space to acknowledge “the pervasive nature of sexual violence.”
“It is also the public statement of support for survivors,” she said. “We see the conversations around the rape culture emerge and submerge. The memorial can bring the permanency which we currently lack.”
The project will cost $650,000, she said, and the groundbreaking will happen once all the money has been raised. She said the effort still seeks $75,000 in donations.
Much of the support so far has come from hundreds of donations from individuals who contacted her after she told her story, Super said.
Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who revealed in 2015 that he had been sexually abused as a child, is among those who have contributed to the project.
“There are so many people who have been sexually assaulted but will never share their experiences with anyone,” he said. “We will soon have a physical space which depicts that the community is with them. They are not alone.”
Super and 10 other survivors first approached the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board about the memorial in 2015. The board eventually approved of the concept and is exploring ways to contribute.
“All of us, including me, know so many women within our families and outside who [have] been violated at various points of time in their lives,” said Commissioner Londel French, a Park Board commissioner. “They ought to get a fair deal.”
The design of the project is Super’s interpretation of the trauma and aftermath of sexual assault. The circle of benches represents people sitting in circles to have difficult conversations. The mosaics represent broken pieces that can be put together to create something whole and beautiful. The ripple effect carved in the landscape represents the multiplying power of breaking the silence.
“The memorial is more than a symbol,” said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented victims of clergy sexual abuse across the country and contributed funds to the memorial. “It is an evocation of powerlessness to power and hope. Through the memorial, all survivors can feel connected to each other in their journeys.”
Others who have donated to the memorial include playwright and activist Eve Ensler and activist Gloria Steinem.
Since the time Super started work on the project, she said her biggest challenge has been questioning people’s idea of how survivors heal from sexual violence.
“Most people would talk about therapy and self-care,” she said. “While these things might be helpful, it keeps sexual violence private, contained, depoliticized.”
Super said she derives satisfaction from the fact that, unlike at the time she was raped, more people now recognize that there are survivors all around us.
Still, the work on the memorial has kept Super tied to her own story long after she has wanted to keep thinking and talking about it.
“When I set out to do this project, it was with the intention of helping others heal and healing myself,” she said. “I believe there will be a sense of freedom once the memorial is built.”