I teach part-time at a local university. I was not prepared for what I saw when I walked onto campus last week. In conjunction with a Take Back The Night event and other violence prevention and awareness activities, I walked directly into The Clothesline Project.
T-shirts with hand painted messages and artwork were hanging from clotheslines that stretched all across the quad. There were hundreds of them. I began to read the shirts as I walked by. By the time I’d gone ten feet I was in tears and absolutely gutted by the impact of the messages. Each shirt was a statement from a survivor or an ally about violence that had been experienced, usually sexual violence. The shirts were graphic, painful, and raw. They were also beautiful.
From the project’s website:
The concept was simple – let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who made a shirt – by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.
I took some photos of what I saw there, hoping to share the profound experience I had. But be warned, it is not an easy thing to look at (at least it wasn’t for me). I broke down and I saw others with tears streaming down their faces, as well. I saw students, men and women, trying very hard not to look upset by what they were seeing.
But it’s real. We all know it’s real. And perhaps if collectively, we spent a little more time dealing with this out in the daylight, those who have suffered would feel less alone in the dark.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic or sexual violence and needs help, call or click on RAINN (1-800-656-HOPE).
Photo Credits: Julie Miner (and I apologize, I’m no photographer.)
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