The “Sleepwalker” Statue and a “Lively Conversation”

Compassionate Love:Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness

(c)2014 Nancy Virden


Art is art, so they say, and freedom of speech is, well, free. We Americans like these premises most of the time. We like them until we are offended by someone’s interpretation of art  and free speech. Nonetheless, isn’t there some decorum, consideration, even protection needed over our public expressions?

Years ago, in Cleveland, Ohio there was a KKK rally held downtown. Of course it was controversial, so much so that police lined the speech area to protect the people on both sides. As hate-mongers, no one can accuse Klan members of decency. Close to that time a suburban Black family woke to a burning cross on their front yard. What do you think the reaction of the children from that home, now grown, might be to an art-piece of a KKK member placed where they live?

At Wellesley College, an all women school in Massachusetts, an artist designed and built a life-like statue of a man wearing only his underwear, stumbling across the lawn with his arms outstretched. Sleepwalker. Students are protesting and asking for its removal because it is frightening and a reminder of the threat of assault; Wellesley’s President likes the ensuing controversy because it has caused “lively conversation.”

In both cases, I believe we are talking about something severely more damaging than political incorrectness.

Due to a variety of flaws in our data collecting process, and the fact most victims of sexual abuse do not report it,  statistics on these crimes are incomplete. With the more consistent statistics we do have, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center has concluded that 1 in 4 girls are victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18. *

In addition to low self-esteem; sense of worthlessness; abnormal view of sex; mistrust; anxiety and depression that many of these girls may carry into adulthood, young people who were raped or endured an attempted rape as adolescents are over 10% more likely to experience the same in their first year of college.**   Is it possible that a quarter of Wellesley’s students have been sexually abused as minors? Absolutely.

It is not just victims of prior assaults who are reminded of very real fears by Sleepwalker. Every 21 hours there is a rape on an American college campus. Nearly half of the victims are left with external injuries.***

I believe Sleepwalker is significantly offensive and makes light of the power of image to incite fear and traumatization.

What say you?


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline     1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

picture from

*Sexual Violence on College Campuses, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center website, Resources section, retrieved from on February 9, 2014

**U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2011). Child Maltreatment 2010. Available from…

***Statistics About Child Sexual Abuse, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Resources section, retrieved from on February 9, 2014

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