Amid mushy love posts sent back and forth from significant others on Twitter this Valentine's Day are important and powerful love letters of a different kind: from sexual assault survivors to other survivors and to themselves. Survivors are using #SurvivorLoveLetter to post messages of self love and support. Filmmaker and activist Tani Ikeda first started Survivor Love Letter three years ago on Valentine's Day, and initially posted love letters on Tumblr. "#SurvivorLoveLetter is a call to survivors of sexual violence and our loved ones to publicly celebrate our lives," the Tumblr page reads. "By telling our stories we seek to build knowledge and reflect on the ways we heal ourselves and our communities." Every Valentine's Day since, survivors have posted their love letters to Twitter and on Tumblr using the hashtag #SurvivorLoveLetter. And Ikeda continues to get letters throughout the year.
"Valentine's Day is the anniversary of my sexual assault," Ikeda tells Refinery29. "I woke up three years ago and imagined what it would mean to my younger self to see messages of support and love for survivors on the Internet. That's when I started Survivor Love Story." The hashtag has taken on a life of its own. It started trending on Twitter for the first time this year.
"It's powerful," Ikeda tells us. "After my assault I felt so isolated. Since publicly coming out as a queer woman of color and a survivor I've met so many more survivors. That's the power in Survivor Love Letter. We are able to find each other." Ikeda says the project is especially important for queer people, people of color, transgender people, people with disabilities, and people who have any combination of those identities.
While the mainstream conversation around sexual assault has its problems — namely that many people believe assault is somehow the fault of the survivor or just don't believe the assault happened at all — it is often dominated by white women, and the experiences of women of color, queer women, trans women, and differently abled women are therefore erased. "Statistics say that about one in four women will be assaulted in her lifetime," Ikeda said. "When you look at the statistics for transgender women, that number is more like one in two."
On both Tumblr and Twitter, Ikeda calls for survivors and allies to "flood the internet with love for survivors" by either posting your own love letter with #SurvivorLoveLetter or by sending an anonymous letter to Tani at email@example.com.