Every day, it seems like someone else has been accused of sexual assault or harassment, and it's been a long time coming.
People are fed up with a culture of silence around abuse, and more and more women, men, and nonbinary folks are speaking up about their experiences. More than ten years ago, Tarana Burke created the #MeToo campaign to help people whose lives had been affected by sexual harassment and abuse. More recently, survivors have taken to social media using Burke's hashtag to show solidarity with one another in the face of these injustices.
Still others are finding ways to speak out using their art, and one poet has gone viral after taking the statements given by celebrities accused of abuse or assault and changing them to reflect their true meanings.
Isobel O'Hare has been posting images of the apology or denial statements given by celebrities about sexual assault allegations to her Instagram with just one thing changed: she's selectively blacked out portions of the text to give them new meaning.
This kind of poem is called an erasure because it uses a source text but erases parts of it to say something new or different than the original. Statements about alleged sexual abuse have become their own genre as more and more people in power have to respond to claims against them. By making these so-called apologies into statements that actually address the abuser's actions, the poem has power. For instance, this erasure of Louis C.K.'s statement below.
She takes on each erasure with great insight, reading between the lines of denials to show the damage that has been caused by sexual assault and harassment.
It's an emotional process. She writes of the statement below by Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey, "...[H]e targeted underage girls, but makes no mention of that in his statement, instead framing this as an issue of marital infidelity and sex addiction. I did three iterations of this before settling on this one, and the first one has droplets of my own blood on it because I was biting my thumb so hard while blacking it out."
Rose McGowan, an actress who has been outspoken about her abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, found O'Hare's erasures so powerful that she also shared them on social media, calling O'Hare "genius." Weinstein, as you may know, has been accused of harassment and assault by several dozen women who bravely came forward.
"My hope is that the spell of the erasure [will] lift the veil of PR language and show people what is really being asked of them, or communicated to them, through these statements," O'Hare said to Refinery29.
By turning these statements into art, this poet is helping people process these traumas in a new way that holds the perpetrators accountable through their own words. If you want to see more of her important work, be sure to follow her on Instagram, where she'll continue to post erasures as more statements appear.