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Austin Artist Empowers Sexual Violence Victims
The Wings of Courage project was created by an Austin artist. It aims to empower sexual violence victims.

A local artist is trying to raise awareness about sexual violence through an art project called Wings of Courage. The project started as a way to visualize sexual abuse statistics in Austin.

In 2012, there were more than 200 reported rapes and nearly 650 cases of reported child molestation in Austin. Jen Hassin wanted to represent those statistics through something more approachable, like art.

She created a wooden dove, painted it red and placed a rounded gold nail in the bird for every reported case.

“The visual art, the piece itself, is a gateway into learning about that specific tragedy,” Hassin says, shaping a guitar out of clay in her East Austin studio. “Really the emphasis is more on that individual experience for that statistics because it blows my mind these people end up being a number.”

Hassin uses statistics for a lot of her art. Last year, she created the Bottles of Destruction project, where she broke a bottle for every person who died because of drunk driving in Texas in 2011. She put the broken bottles in five different glass boxes to represent the five stages of grief.

But for Hassin, the issue of sexual abuse is personal.  She’s been sexually abused by three different people. Once as a child, another time when she was in junior high, and then when she entered the Air Force.

“I joined the military for the structure and then within four weeks I became a victim of military sexual trauma and my training instructor had abused me," she says.

Hassin reported the instructor and remained in the Air Force, where she eventually won Airman of the Year.

“That award made me realize that none of that stuff that every happened to me even mattered," Hassin says. "It happened and it was this crappy circumstance and something I shouldn’t have had to gone through but I did. And that there was nothing I could do to ever change it, but I had all the power in the world to change what happened me then on forward.”

Hassin went to St. Edward’s under the 9/11 GI Bill where she graduated with a degree in art. During that time, she also had a son, Jackson.

Now, Hassin is working full time as an artist, trying to use her art to support victims of sexual violence. She wants the red bird to become a symbol for sexual violence survivors, like the pink ribbon is for breast cancer.

“20 years ago, breast cancer survivors were humiliated, and now they run half marathons and they do all these fun things and they wear tutus and pink ribbons and they’re not a victim of breast cancer, they’re a survivor," she says." And the goal is to get sexual abuse victims is to make that transition to be survivor because they don’t have to be a victim."

Hassin’s most recent project incorporates social media and music. This month she made a ceramic guitar with the imprint of her red dove. She started tweeting to famous musicians about the cause in the hopes to reach other sexual violence survivors.

“It’s not about me anymore. It’s not longer about me, or my story. What happened to me happened to me. But the reason I’m doing this is not because of what happened to me it’s because I’m a survivor of it. I want to encourage other people who consider themselves a victim to become a survivor," she says.

Once the non-profit is officially off the ground, Hassin says she’s hoping to hold a benefit concert in April as the first major event.