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Quilt project covers city blocks to present stories from survivors of sexual assault

The Monument Quilt, containing the patchwork words and stories from more than 1,000 survivors of sexual assault, was spread Sunday afternoon over three blocks of North Avenue in the Charles North neighborhood.
The Monument Quilt, containing the patchwork words and stories from more than 1,000 survivors of sexual assault, was spread Sunday afternoon over three blocks of North Avenue in the Charles North neighborhood.(Tim Prudente / Baltimore Sun)

Thirty-one years later, she still remembers her pajamas, silk and styled like a baseball uniform.

Sister Tracy Muhammad was 11 that night and wore her new pajamas to bed in West Baltimore. When she woke, the 42-year-old East Baltimore woman said, someone was sexually assaulting her.

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"It murdered the little girl I was," Muhammad said.

On Sunday, she dipped a brush in blue paint and wrote her story on red cloth. All around her, across three blocks of North Avenue, the stories of more than 1,000 fellow survivors of rape and abuse were painted and written on the red cloth panels and sewn together in the Monument Quilt.

"It's about removing the stigma from the experience of being a survivor," said Hannah Brancato, co-founder of the three-year-old quilt project.

The Station North-based organization FORCE, which works to promote a culture of sexual consent, has toured 23 cities with its quilt. The organizers have collected stories from around the country and hope eventually to blanket the National Mall in Washington — "as a way to create and demand public space to heal," Brancato said.

On Sunday, the quilt was spread across the closed street in the Charles North neighborhood. Visitors walked among the cloth panels and read.

"Little brother, how could I have not known what he did to you in that shared bedroom? I carry the guilt of not being able to save you."

Another read: "After I was sexually assaulted, it only took a matter of months for the community and home I'd built for myself to complete dissolve."

Some were sewn with pillows, sheets and tattered clothing.

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"People don't know what to say or how to react. So I'm going to tell you, we want to be treated exactly the way we were before you knew. We don't want your pity because we are too strong for that."

The Monument Quilt was displayed in Federal Hill two years ago. It has doubled in size since then.

One in six American women has been the victim of sexual assault, according to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, citing federal surveys. Some 17.7 million American women are survivors of rape or attempted rape, the group says, citing federal statistics. One in nine girls and one in 53 boys has experienced sexual abuse from an adult.

After that night, Muhammad said, she wore sweatpants to bed and boys' clothes. She wanted to hide her body, she said.

She wondered: Was it her fault?

"Seeing everybody else's quilt just made me feel I wanted to have my voice heard," she said. "There's a power in breaking the silence."

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She never told police, she said.

The Baltimore Sun does not ordinarily publish the names of sexual assault victims. Muhammad, who has shared her experience with her children and with other survivors, has chosen to speak publicly.

"Not breaking the silence means you allow whatever that person did to continue to victimize you," she said.

Beside her, Sunday afternoon, a few women sat painting their own cloth panels.

"This is power. This is magic," Muhammad said, and smiled at the activity around her. "Out here, this is healing."

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