The SAFE Alliance encourages anyone who is a survivor of sexual violence to seek help. You can call their 24-hour hotline at 512-267-SAFE (7233), text 737-888-7233, or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4573) for help.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — As graffiti messages alluding to sexual assault are plastered all over Austin, a bar general manager said his business was also tagged — and he caught it on camera.
“It was very disturbing,” said Dhamon Quale, the general manager of the Casino South Side Lounge in Austin.
Surveillance video taken around 3 p.m. on Jan. 23 shows a person wearing a coat and large headphones walk up to the side of Quale’s bar. The person begins spray painting a message but it is unclear in the video what exactly is being written. Quale says the message, which he photographed, is the same cursive style scrawling that has popped up all over Austin recently.
It said: “Even though I was raped, I am OK.”
The black spray painted message left on Quale’s wall is one of at least 60 examples KXAN has seen around Austin or seen documented in photographs.
Austin police officials say they are “actively investigating these incidents.”
The graffiti was done before Quale’s bar opened for business. KXAN is blurring the person’s face because we don’t want to identify someone who says they are a victim of sexual abuse. We don’t know who this person is, how long this has been going on, if other people are involved, why this is happening or what the intention is.
Over at least the past month, the same exact message, written in the same handwriting, has appeared on bicycles, buildings and under bridges.
KXAN has been trying to find out who this person is to answer these questions, and make sure they’re connected to resources. If you’d like to talk, please email email@example.com.
‘A very big problem’
“The fact that it upset one of my employees, one of our staff, really upset me,” Quale said. “And the fact that it had the potential to harm any further, I needed to act fast.”
Quale said he knows sexual assault survivors, which prompted him to quickly paint over the message, concerned it could be triggering or taken in a way that suggests how someone should process deeply personal trauma.
“The fact that this touched the lives of people I know, personally, is a very big problem for me,” he said. “The fact that it had the potential to harm more people is a very big problem for me.”
He said he did not file a police report because he thought it was “a random incident that wasn’t necessarily actionable.”
He was surprised when KXAN showed him photos of the same message appearing across the city.
“We are actively investigating these incidents and ask anyone with information to call 512-974-6973,” an APD spokesperson said in a statement. “You may submit your tip anonymously through the Capital Area Crime Stoppers Program by visiting austincrimestoppers.org or calling 512-472-8477. A reward of up to $1,000 may be available for any information that leads to an arrest.”
APD also encouraged people to report criminal activity to 911 or ireportaustin.com for emergencies and 311 for non-emergencies.
Before Quale covered the message up, it had appeared next to a large yellow and black “Don’t Tread On Me” mural depicting the Gadsden flag’s rattlesnake as a uterus. Quale said he had the pro-abortion rights message painted to support women.
“We make a point of making our customers and our staff feel safe here,” Quale said.
While he doesn’t know what the intended message is supposed to be, he said the graffiti’s effect has made people feel unsafe and upset. He calls it “harmful.”
“I think this person may need some help,” he said.
Judy Painter sent two photos she took to KXAN. One near her home scrawled on a yellow road sign at East Side Drive and Leland Street. The other, taken on Feb. 6 while out on a bike ride, shows red graffiti on a blue and white tiled wall between 4th and 5th Streets at Navasota Street.
“When I glanced over and saw the message as I rode, it really stopped me in my tracks and I had to go back and be sure I read it correctly,” said Painter. “I took the picture because it disturbed me and I thought it should some how be recorded just in case.”
Near the University of Texas, at West Campus, a person who posted flyers protesting the graffiti, told KXAN a “clean up project” is being organized to paint over the messages. The graffiti is written at least three times at one off-campus student housing building.
“You are not empowering victims. You are just reminding people of the worst experience in their lives. You are not promoting healing,” the flyers, stapled to telephone poles, read. “You show zero compassion and even less awareness.”
On Monday, sexual assault advocates with Austin’s SAFE Alliance, a nonprofit that helps victims of abuse, told KXAN everyone processes trauma differently and this could be part of that. The organization cautions while this could be empowering and therapeutic to someone, it could have the opposite effect on other survivors.
“I think it’s really valuable for us as a community to be able to talk about it, right?” said SAFE Alliance senior director of sexual assault and health services Juliana Gonzales. “It does bring the issue of sexual assault to light.”