On Valentine's Day, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a team of local activists and artists led by Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle, will create a temporary memorial to survivors of sexual violence by floating the phrase "I can't forget what happened, but no one else remembers" on the reflecting pool on the Mall in Washington, D.C. "This temporary monument is a call to create a permanent monument to survivors of rape and abuse in the United States," Brancato says.
The group formed not long after October of 2010, when Current Gallery hosted an exhibit entitled FORCE: On the Culture of Rape, curated by Brancato and Nagle, which featured artwork that dealt with sexual violence head-on. The exhibit boldly tackled a sensitive but important issue with both potency and fearlessness. When the show came down, the conversation was only just beginning. Building on the momentum of the exhibition, Brancato and Nagle widened the scope of the project, naming an umbrella group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture. Since then, they have engaged in a number of projects promoting messages that "CONSENT IS SEXY" and that the best sex comes from good communication.
In October of 2012, on the eve of the final presidential debate and in the wake of grotesque commentary from lawmakers like "legitimate rape" advocate Todd Akin, the growing collective worked with activist group Luminous Intervention to project the phrase "RAPE IS RAPE" on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., bringing to light the experiences of sexual-violence survivors whose stories fall outside the narrow scope of legally sanctioned "forcible rape."
Their best-known feat cleverly employed a careful reading of trademark law to create a parody of the Victoria's Secret's PINK website. (Victoria's Secret had the original site taken down, but FORCE put it back up on an offshore server.) FORCE replaced the underwear company's actual panties-embossed with rapey slogans such as "Sure Thing!"-with a line of Yes! Consent is Sexy panties, which feature phrases such as "Ask First." A successful Twitter assault, linking this year's Victoria's Secret live televised fashion show to the PINK loves CONSENT site, garnered an overwhelmingly positive response, from actual PINK representatives and employees to high school and college students. "Victoria's Secret was able to take down our first site, simply because they are a powerful company," Brancato says. "As long as we're not selling anything and this is clearly a parody of the brand, we're exercising our First Amendment rights." "
Still, the ability to remove websites or suspend accounts highlights FORCE's call for a permanent monument to victims of sexual assault.