One by one, visitors to the Sexual Assault Recovery Center in Mount Vernon recoil at the sight of "Broken Trust."
A sculpture made of plaster, Broken Trust depicts two figures. The taller one, a man shrouded in a black cloak, is holding a girl in a sinister embrace. The girl's arms and head hang low.
"It feels alive," says Cecelia L. Carroll, executive director of the center, where the figure stands in a second-floor room. "It exudes an evil presence."
It was created by artist Amy Kaplan, 25, who says Broken Trust grew out of an experience in her life.
"I want people to know that this goes on every day," she says. "Just be aware and protect the child, protect the innocents . . . all innocents, young and old. Tell the little child that you don't have to be quiet. Get help."
Kaplan sought counseling at the center in 1988 while Broken Trust was taking shape in plaster. The sculpture was one of several pieces that were part of her master's thesis at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
"This was my subtle way of saying, 'Hey, this is what's going on,' " she says.
The sculptures dealt with fears, nightmares and emotions, Kaplan says. One -- a solitary figure curled up in a corner and titled "Alone" -- reflected the loneliness she felt after leaving home in Wayne Township, N.J. "They [the sculptures] were a lot of what I was feeling at the time," she says.
But Broken Trust was the most difficult to create.
"It took a lot more time, but it also took a lot more energy and a lot more emotion," she says. "I was sitting inside of the piece painting it and crying."
For Kaplan, the sculpture was an expression of emotions pent-up since childhood.
Carroll said it is not unusual for survivors of sexual assault to "block out" abuse from their minds for many years and try to get on with their lives.
"We've had people who came in 40 years after the sexual assault," Carroll said. "Sometimes an incident can trigger that memory. The important thing is that the survivor feels that he or she is in control of their lives."
The non-profit center, at 1010 St. Paul St., provides hot line counseling and therapy for victims of sexual assault. To lessen the emotional trauma for victims, SARC volunteers provide sensitivity training for police, teachers and social workers. The volunteers provide direct support to victims by accompanying them to hospitals, police stations and courts. The volunteers also provide information about sexual assault prevention to neighborhood groups.
"We refer to victims as survivors because if they survive the incident they have something going for them," Carroll said. "It's an act of strength."
Kaplan agreed. "I don't feel like a victim anymore," she said. "The pieces are being put back together."
She donated the sculpture SARC last summer as "sort of a thank you . . . a gift," Kaplan said.
Carroll says she accepted the sculpture "without knowing what I was agreeing to." To this day, she says, some experienced sexual assault counselors have difficulty looking at the sculpture, which stands in a corner at the center's administrative offices.
"It seems to be a presence that is bigger than us," Carroll says. "This is the best way to show the impact of sexual abuse. People need to see it."
Kaplan wants others to see it, too.
"It was my first step in expressing what I wanted to say . . . in breaking the silence," she says. "If a silent person sees that and is able to express their own little secrets, then it's done something."