More than two dozen pairs of eyes stare out from photographs hanging in the second-floor lobby of the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in downtown Boston.
These eyes are brave. These eyes are unbreakable. These eyes are strong and proud. These eyes belong to children who have been sexually abused or assaulted. The eyes of some caregivers are there as well.
Each pair of eyes has a name and a story. Each pair of eyes is there because they are not ashamed.
It’s called the “Now You See” exhibit, and it is presented by the office of Suffolk district attorney Daniel F. Conley, Suffolk County Juvenile Court, and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Suffolk County. The goal is simple yet profound: remove the shame from sexual assault and encourage others to come forward.
“I am Yvonne,” say words above an image cropped so only the 16-year-old’s eyes are visible. “My eyes are irreplaceable.”
Then there is a description of what happened to Yvonne, who was raped for the first time at age 12, again at 14 by a man who then tried to sell her for sex, and again at 15.
“These things didn’t destroy my body, but they destroyed my soul,” her words beneath her picture read. “I live day to day with fear still in my heart.”
‘I would like other people, when they see it, to know that they are not alone, and there are plenty of people who have spoken up for themselves.’SARA, a sexual abuse victim who is now a freshman at Wheelock College
But she also wants other children to know: “You always have a voice.”
The images were unveiled Tuesday night and will remain affixed to the walls and columns in the courthouse lobby for the next two to three weeks.
The amateur photographer Jacquelyn Lamont, a forensic interviewer in the district attorney’s office and director of youth safety and outreach, started capturing the images about three years ago, starting with Sara, a scared 15-year-old when she first met Lamont.
That first interview with Sara was in the spring. Her grandfather, who had been abusing her for about five years, was arrested within 24 hours and indicted within a month. Sara — the Globe does not fully identify sexual abuse victims — met with the prosecutorial team five or six times “to talk about the hard stuff,” said Maryrose Anthes, one of the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the case.
On the day the trial was set to begin, Sara’s abuser pleaded guilty and is now in prison.
“My Eyes Are Brave and Inspiring,” the now 19-year-old freshman at Wheelock College declares above her photograph.
Sara, who is studying education, said she knew instinctively what she wanted another child who had been abused to know. Written with her photograph is this: “Being silent will only hurt you in the long run. Speak to someone you trust, and they will help you. You are not alone in this world, so don’t feel like you are. Don’t let anyone hurt you ever again!”
During an interview, she said, “I would like other people, when they see it, to know that they are not alone, and there are plenty of people who have spoken up for themselves. I’m not scared anymore. I’m like, I don’t know how to say it, I feel more confident.”
Tuesday night, Lamont sat in front of Sara, other children featured in the exhibit, and their caregivers to explain what was going to happen. There will be a few speakers, Lamont told them. Then five children will receive framed copies of their photographs, though modified to include only their words of encouragement and not the description of abuse.
“I’m not going to talk about what happened, but how brave you all are,” Lamont said. “But part of this is so other kids know that it’s OK to talk about it, even though it’s scary and embarrassing. It’s OK.”
But 8-year-old James, a name he chose to go atop his photograph, was preoccupied with his shoestrings. James, who had the name Nike and a swoosh cut into his hair, said he picked the name from a television show on Nickelodeon “when I was 5 . . . because it’s a show, a singing show. I don’t watch it anymore.”
Now, he said, he is all about the Disney Channel and WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment.
James was 6 when his mother caught a family friend preparing to rape him, she said.
“It’s a mother’s worst nightmare,” she said Tuesday night. “I wanted to kill him.”
The young man, now in prison, had been helping James’s mother care for her children when she and their father separated. The young man — she described him as “like a nephew” — would take James and his younger brother to school and pick them up.
But something, she said, started to seem off with James. She would find him sleeping in his brother’s crib, and he became clingy, crying hysterically if she left to run errands or go to the corner store.
She took him to the pediatrician and a therapist, but it was not until she walked into the bedroom two years ago that she discovered the reason behind her son’s behavior.
The young man had been molesting James on the way to and from school. Sometimes, she said, James’s little brother would be there when it happened.
The entire family is in counseling. James’s 3-year-old brother has trouble being separated from his mother, and James still has nightmares, dreaming that a snake or shark is chasing him.
But his mother said James is healing. They all are.Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.