Austin graffiti shows need to respond to sexual assault victims in new ways

ThSAFE Alliance encourages anyone who is a survivor of sexual violence to seek help. You can call their 24-hour hotline at 512-267-SAFE (7233), text 737-888-7233, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4573) for help.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After KXAN found more than 60 spray-painted tags across Austin restaurants, buildings, and bridges that said, “even though I was raped, I am OK,”, we put out a call for the person responsible to contact us to better understand why it was happening. We got a response. While KXAN is unable to verify a connection for sure, we still think the meaning that person says is behind the messages is worth sharing at a time when new resources are being made available in Texas to help sexual assault victims.

“My methods are confrontational, but I believe this is a problem that Austin has to fully confront,” a person, who did not give a name, wrote in an email to KXAN using an email address with the same message that has been graffitied around town.

KXAN received the anonymous email after asking whoever is behind this graffiti campaign to reach out and explain. The emailer says they’re a sexual assault survivor, claiming responsibility for the admittedly “confrontational” graffiti, saying rape is a problem Austin “has to fully confront.” The person said this is a non-violent protest over access to resources.

“Why street art in particular? Because rape is a problem that relies on privacy and secrecy to thrive,” the person wrote. “Street art allows for the discussion to be public. I wanted to show people that this is something that happens all around this city.”

The author claims responsibility for other tags that we spotted but never reported, as well as the message: “Rape victims deserve justice.”

“Someone told me, after they had recently been raped, ‘even though I was raped, I am ok’. Up until that point, I had felt so much pain from rape that it had never occurred to me that healing was possible,” the emailer said. “Being ‘ok’ comes and goes depending on the day, but I wanted to commemorate those beautiful moments when we finally do feel better.”

In September, the city reported 29 rapes. So far this year, there have been 247 reports of rape, which is down from 296 reports over the same timeframe last year, according to APD chief’s monthly report.

  • Excerpts of an anonymous email sent to KXAN. (Graphic Courtesy Wendy Gonzalez)
  • Excerpts of an anonymous email sent to KXAN. (Graphic Courtesy Wendy Gonzalez)
  • Excerpts of an anonymous email sent to KXAN. (Graphic Courtesy Wendy Gonzalez)

‘Talking about rape is painful’ 

KXAN asked the email sender for a police report number and other information related to their assault and identity but didn’t get a reply. Austin police officials said they can’t comment on specifics without more information.

“We take these crimes very seriously and dedicate enormous personnel to investigate these thoroughly,” an APD official said.

“UTPD was made aware of the graffiti when it first appeared on campus this spring,” a University of Texas at Austin official said. “The matter is still under active investigation.”

The person claiming responsibility said their “message” is that there is “healing after rape and there is hope for a better way.”

“Rape is a destructive, massive problem that has deep impacts on our community, but our community needs to stick together to fight with survivors for justice,” the emailer wrote. “There has to be change in the culture, otherwise people will continue to be victimized. I’ve known people who have killed themselves because of it; I have tried to kill myself because of it. No one should have to be pushed to that level of desperation because they can’t get the help they need. No one should have to go through with this in the first place. Talking about rape is painful, but we have to talk about it together as a community to find better solutions.”

‘A way to go through their healing journey’

Deepika Modali at the TAASA office in Austin (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

KXAN showed the email to Deepika Modali, a sexual assault response team coordinator with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. TAASA is a non-profit, based in Austin, committed to ending sexual violence in Texas through education, prevention, and advocacy.

“I was sexually assaulted when I was in college,” said Modali, who spoke with KXAN next to a photo that read, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

“I think that was a big motivator for me to do this work,” she said.

Modali said her assault took place in another state in 2006 and her attackers were never punished. Since then, she has transformed her trauma into advocacy. For more than a decade, Modali has worked to help other survivors. She is now part of the governor’s Sexual Assault Survivors Task Force, focusing on prevention efforts.

Modali, who lives in Austin, has personally seen the graffiti and is withholding judgment.

“I think there’s someone out there who has gone through something horrible and horrific and is utilizing this as a way to go through their healing journey,” Modali said after reading the letter. “Everybody’s reaction to sexual assault and rape is different, and, so, some survivors have different responses … There’s all sorts of ways that survivors can react. It’s not a one-shoe-size-fits-all thing.”

“It sounds like this phrase, being able to say, ‘I’m OK,’ was really powerful for that survivor,” she added. “And that was something that they wanted to share not only for themselves but for other survivors around the community. And, I think, this felt like a way for them to reach them.”

Federal funding to help fight sexual assault

In August, Texas received nearly $1.8 million from the Department of Justice as part of a federal grant to combat sexual assault. Nationwide, $51.9 million is being distributed by the Office on Violence Against Women to provide victims of sexual assault with services, according to a news release. This marks a 45% increase compared to funding last year, according to the DOJ.

“It is critically important that all victims of sexual assault are able to access support and safety,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said. “Research shows that the need for that support is substantial across our nation: more than half of women and nearly one-third of men experience sexual violence in their lifetimes, which is a truly staggering number.”

In Texas, one in five men and two in five women are sexually assaulted over their lifetimes. Sexual assault survivors process trauma differently. Some don’t rely on the criminal justice system. An estimated 90% do not report their attacks, according to TAASA and a 2015 report released by the UT Austin Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

A new law that went into effect last month requires police agencies to distribute a card with phone numbers and resources to victims of sexual assault.

Two in five women, one in five men experience sexual assault in Texas over their lifetimes, according to UT Austin and TAASA. (KXAN Graphic/Wendy Gonzalez)

This month, the governor’s office said it gave the nearly $1.8 million grant to TAASA, which serves as the state’s sexual assault coalition, to distribute to rape crisis centers across the state.

KXAN asked Modali how much of the money will stay in Central Texas.

“I think we are, right now, trying to disseminate as equally as we can,” she said. “We are focusing on some rural programs, and there are a lot of rural programs in Central Texas as well, so, I think it will be disseminated based on need.”

“We do have a long way to go,” Modali added. “But, I think this is going to be a great starting point.”

“We just want to make sure that survivors are getting the resources they deserve,” she said.

Finding help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and in need of help, here are some resources:

Asian Family Support Services of Austin:

24-hour hotline: 877-281-8371

AFSSA supports immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault with free, confidential services

National Sexual Assault Hotline:
Phone: 800-656-HOPE (4573)

SAFE Alliance:

24-hour hotline: 512-267-SAFE (7233)
Text: 737-888-7233


Crisis center locator

Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force

Sexual Assault Response Teams

University of Texas at Austin:

Title IX: Phone: 512-471-0419

File a report:
Support and resources:

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