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The Monument Quilt serves as remembrance, strength for sexual abuse survivors

Under cloudy skies, volunteers were busy Saturday afternoon installing panels of the Monument Quilt on the verdant Federal Hill Park lawn.

Walkers and tourists paused to read the emotionally wrenching messages — numbering in the hundreds — from survivors of rape and sexual abuse from across the country that are written on squares sewn into the multicolored and textured quilt.

"I was scared, hiding my emotions away, hidden behind a mask that fooled people for years. I tore away the mask & began my long journey on the road to recovery. I may fall along the way but I will get there!" wrote one survivor.

Another wrote, "I was 4 years old. You stole my childhood."

"Keeping rape a secret won't stop it," read another square.

The messages are sobering in their simple directness: "Hurt One. Hurt All."

The quilt is the brainchild of Baltimore artists Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle, the co-founders and co-directors of FORCE, a national organization based in Station North.

The two women drew international attention a few years ago when they released online a "Top Ten Party Commandments" guide to consensual sex for college students, presenting the list as having been produced by Playboy magazine.

In 2012, they succeeded in raising the ire of Victoria's Secret for another viral prank, in which they pretended to be the lingerie maker and promoted "Pink Loves Consent" a fictional line of underwear that carried consent-themed slogans such as "No Means No" and "Ask First" on panties and thongs.

"We never use the word 'victim' for those who suffered rape or sexual abuse; instead, we say 'survivor,'" said Brancato. "We are their allies and we want to keep these messages of support ongoing."

The quilt has been touring the nation this summer after making its debut in Arden, N.C. The effort is supported by 61 organizations dedicated in raising awareness of sexual abuse and rape.

"We're home again in Baltimore, which is the 12th stop, and next week we'll go to our last stop at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. And we're always looking for more partners," said Brancato.

"There are 275 panels with four stories per block," she said. "We picked up 50 more stories on the road, which will be added to the quilt. Through their stories, we can help them reconnect with the community. It's uplifting, and it supports the survivors."

Native American and African-American women are at highest risk for rape and sexual assault, Brancato said, adding that woman are twice as likely to experience rape than breast cancer.

And, she said, "Men are also survivors. One in six below the age of 18 are sexually assaulted."

Brancato referred to a statement by Judith Lewis Herman, a professor of clinical psychology at Harvard University Medical School and author of "Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror."

"Herman writes in her book that we build monuments to wars, which helps those who fought in them reconnect," said Brancato. "This is what we do with the quilt. We help survivors connect."

The hope is that, in this open-air and welcoming environment, survivors, who often cower in shame after being assaulted, can find peace and support, and ultimately reclaim their lives.

One of the volunteers was helping to spread out the quilt, which is larger than two basketball courts.

She is a volunteer with Phynyx Ministries, a Baltimore organization that provides therapy and support to women recovering from sexual abuse and rape.

"I was raped twice," she said. "When I was 13 and then again when I was 24. The rapist put a gun to my head. He was never caught and is still out there."

The Baltimore Sun does not publish the names of victims of sexual assault.

"I was depressed and full of shame," she said. "I wondered what I had done. Some people turn to alcohol and drugs. I turned to God and asked, 'Why did I survive?'"

"I realized there is life after silence and hiding. I've gotten to that place of healing and hope, and I'm no longer ashamed," she said.

"This is what God wanted me to do. I can now go come out from that place of darkness and share. I am a witness. I can now be a face of hope," said the woman, who added that she is now happily married and the mother of two daughters.

One need not be a survivor, Brancato said, to participate in the Monument Quilt project. New squares can be added; a donation of up to $30 is recommended. For more information:

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