This story contains information about sexual assault and domestic violence.
As visitors walk through the makeshift rooms blocked off by black curtains in the Breaking Silence exhibit, they can’t help but get engrossed in the raw, emotional voiceovers of sexual assault victims and perpetrators.
For this exhibit’s creator, it’s an uncomfortable, yet necessary conversation to have.
Created by Breaking Silence, a media organization that hosts spaces for open dialogues around interpersonal violence, USC Hillel’s Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative and A Path 2 Courage, another organization that aims to assist sexual assault survivors, this exhibit is being held at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center (TCC) from October 27 to 31.
A Path 2 Courage founder Sophie Pollack is a junior majoring in sociology at USC. As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, Pollack wanted to take her own experience and make it more personal for others, she said.
“The main goal [with the exhibit] is to educate the broader community about sexual assault awareness,” Pollack said.
The exhibit consists of a total of nine rooms, along with a space for reflection. Attendees are given a set of headphones and an iPod that plays audio recordings of first-hand testimonies from both survivors and, uniquely, abusers. Visitors are also offered “healing stones” to carry and squeeze for comfort as they walk through the exhibit.
Each room is decorated to match the setting of the story being told, following the sequence of the narrator’s story. The disarray of each room helps set the scene for visitors to immerse themselves in the experience of assault from beginning to end.
In the first three rooms, participants hear the story of a domestic abuse survivor. There are scattered books and kids toys in the first room mimicking a living room. The next room features a nicely set-up dining table with a black knife placed in the center. The last room showcases six chairs in a circle formation.
The second set of rooms illustrates the rapist’s perspective. The exhibit begins with a trunk filled with clothes and empty beer cans. The other room looks like a prison, and the last one is of a table with hand-written thank you letters.
The last three rooms represent a rape survivor’s story. It showcases a messy bedroom, a dining hall and ends with a wall of comments from victims about their triggers and how they’re healing.
Alli Meyerhardt, the founder of Breaking Silence, said, “[w]e just want to create a more empathetic, more aware student population [and] faculty administration. If one person is willing to leave this exhibit and continue the conversation…that feels like a huge win.”
Enid Elizalde, a junior studying health and human sciences and Spanish, visited the exhibit and said, “[a]s opposed to [hearing] from someone reporting about what’s going on, you’re actually listening to [the victim’s stories]. It invokes more feelings and a need to take action.”
Alexis Gosling, a senior studying communications said, “[the exhibit] gives a first hand lens to the experience of sexual assault and violence, which is rarely heard in the numbers and statistics colleges give out.”
Meyerhardt started this project when she was first hired to help mitigate sexual assault on Colorado State University’s campus. To leave more of an impact on students, she wanted to create something more immersive. She was a history major and always loved how exhibits have the power to draw individuals into other’s stories and experiences. It inspired her to create her own immersive environment so that survivors themselves did not have the burden of educating the people in their lives.
The Breaking Silence exhibit can be found in TCC in the The Franklin Suites (Room #350), and admission is free.
The exhibit will run from October 27 to 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and October 31 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.