For more than a year, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica have investigated sexual violence in Alaska, which has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation — nearly four times the national average. Yet for some, it is a secret so steeped in everyday life that to discuss it is to disrupt the norm.
The survivors featured in Unheard chose to speak publicly about their experiences. They come from all walks of life: Alaskans from ages 23 to 73, men and women, urban and rural, Native and non-Native. People who turned to the criminal justice system, and more often those who didn’t.
The reporting from Unheard is part of a larger Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica investigative project titled “Lawless,” that revealed Alaska’s two-tiered justice system in which Native villages are denied access to first responders. This powerful series — which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, widely considered the highest honor in American journalism — began with brave accounts from survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Unheard is a platform for them to tell their stories and show their resilience.
Unheard is a public photography installation that highlights this award-winning series, in collaboration with the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica. The installation features 27 empowering portraits of survivors of sexual assault from across Alaska, along with their quotes about what happened to them. The portraits and stories were originally published by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica throughout June 2020 as part of a joint reporting project of the same name. Occupying 30 nine-foot panels along the Museum facade, the photography installation also includes recorded audio from most of the people featured, literally making their voices heard. It will remain on view through mid-September.
The portraits displayed in the installation reflect the underlying courage and strength of each person. Anchorage Daily News photographers Loren Holmes, Marc Lester and Anne Raup worked with subjects to choose the place in which they’d be photographed and the emotions they wanted to convey. Journalists and designers (Adriana Gallardo, Nadia Sussman and Agnes Chang of ProPublica, and Kyle Hopkins and Michelle Theriault Boots of the Anchorage Daily News) spent hours talking with each survivor, allowing them to choose how their experiences would be represented.
They chose to be pictured in meaningful locations — from the deep woods of west Anchorage, to the delta of the Knik and Matanuska rivers, to the comfort and safe space of their homes. They dressed in clothing that made them feel strong, or they appeared alongside the people and animals they love. In capturing these photographs, the aim was to focus not on what happened to them, but on who they had become. The digital and print versions of Unheard, which ran in the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica on every day of June, culminated on July 1 with a “space of silence” dedicated to those not yet ready to share. The Museum installation also leaves a blank space open for these countless survivors, along with resources that they can turn to for help and an Anchorage Daily News callout for safely sharing their stories when they are in a position to do so.
The installation is part of listening to people telling their own stories, in their own voices and about recognizing both the power and powerlessness of silence. It reflects the hope that journalism can bring about positive change while amplifying voices.