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).
The Clothesline Project 1 of 16
This is a small part of the hundreds of shirts that were displayed.
More about the program. 2 of 16
It was started in 1990 through a collaboration of women's groups on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and has grown from there.
Personal stories 3 of 16
Some of the stories on the shirts sounded all too familiar. You wonder how often it happens and to how many...
You know you did it. 4 of 16
This was a recurring theme.
So many survivors… 5 of 16
There were a lot of really beautiful messages about strength.
I was 14. You were 20. 6 of 16
This shirt was chilling. She was so young.
Abuse knows no boundaries. 7 of 16
There were many shirts written in different languages, this among them.
Love, The 4th Floor 8 of 16
One of the difficult things about seeing these shirts is the the degree to which you are forced to confront how widespread campus violence really is.
I know the real you. 9 of 16
This shirt describes a young women seeing her rapist's picture in the newspaper, grieving over a friend's death. How painful it must have been for her to have seen him portrayed as an object of sympathy — when she knows who he really is and what he did.
The Motherlode 10 of 16
This shirt just... This was when I lost it.
Innocence stolen. 11 of 16
This was another recurring theme.
Men are victims, too. 12 of 16
This shirt brought home a sad truth.
You picked the wrong girl to mess with. 13 of 16
There were a lot of angry messages. That anger felt sort of good and cathartic, as the sadness was overwhelming.
This. 14 of 16
You stole something I will never get back.
Rage. 15 of 16
We all understand the helpless rage that is expressed in this shirt.
It Gets Better. 16 of 16
Survivors move forward and thrive every day. This shirt was a positive reminder of that.
Photo Credits: Julie Miner (and I apologize, I’m no photographer.)
Read more from Julie at her blog Rants from MommyLand. Follow Julie on Facebook , Pinterest and Twitter for additional goofy nonsense at no extra charge. You can catch up on all her posts for Babble Pets and or read her Babble Voices blog, Rants in My Pants.