Street graffiti disrespectful, triggers memories of assault

Amanda Irons
Amanda Irons

On the morning of Aug. 25, I participated in Be Chico, a downtown cleanup that was intended to bring together the campus and the community to promote a culture of respect and unity.

A team of eight and I suited up in tattered fluorescent vests and began picking up trash along Chestnut and Hazel streets. Aside from the various articles of clothing, broken bottles and even a bag of weed, the most prominent thing I saw that day was something that changed the way I look at social movements that rely on shock tactics.

Spray-painted on the sidewalk every few blocks was a red cross roughly one square-foot in size, emblazoned with the message “Cry Chico.” Stenciled below in bold black paint it read, “another woman was raped here.”

Astonished by the message, I couldn’t help but stare. I was standing where a woman was maliciously attacked. Robbed of her agency. Denied the simplest of human rights. The mere thought of sexual assault makes me cringe and fills my heart with a painful emptiness. It was there, it was in broad daylight, laid out for all eyes to see. How the tagger knew where to place these emotional land mines is a mystery to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were taken from police reports.

Trash bag in hand, I turned to a fellow volunteer for her impression of the graffiti. Shock is the simplest way to describe her reaction.

“Oh my god,” she said, hushed.

A few other staff members gathered and made similar disturbed exclamations. As we walked toward the Bell Memorial Union to finish Be Chico, we continued talking about the graffiti. Initially, I was in favor of the dedication because I favored the powerful message the simple stencil conveyed. I assume the creator, who still remains anonymous, achieved exactly what he or she aimed for — an initial shock followed by a conversation about the incident and how something so atrocious could possibly take place somewhere so public.

Only after a colleague said how insensitive the tag seemed did I start to see this concept in a different light. She made the point that whoever made the stencil had little to no regard for the victim’s feelings. Someone’s broken heart was spray painted on the ground for the world to see.

After the cleanup, I spoke to someone who could give me more insight on the situation. During the 2012 spring semester, a friend of mine was attacked and raped in downtown Chico. When I told her about the spray paint, she responded with similar sentiments — that the artist displayed callous disregard for the feelings of the victims. It’s important to bring to light the severity and widespread nature of sexual assaults, but airing something so personal to someone might not be the right way to do it. The tagging has the potential to completely interrupt someone’s healing process, which is counterproductive to the cause and detrimental to someone’s life.


Amanda Irons can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_news on Twitter.