Messages hung on ‘Clothesline’ for all to see

A women is battered every 15 seconds in the United States.

Many may not know the prevalence of violence and abuse toward women. UAA participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month by sponsoring the National Clothesline Project, an exhibit of powerful messages in the form of T-shirts. Shirts were hung on a clothesline in the Student Union Oct. 28 with colorful, hand-written messages from victims of abuse.

Each year a different community agent hosts the Clothesline Project, which first came to Alaska four years ago. Under the sponsorship of the Office of Student Affairs, the Clothesline Project was displayed in the Student Union by Abused Women’s Aid in Crises of Anchorage. AWAIC offers shelter, information and support to abused women. According to their Web site, AWAIC “strives to provide clients a full range of choices for living and to empower all those affected by domestic violence to make positive decisions about their lives.”

AWAIC staffed a table in the Student Union where students and faculty could pick out a T-shirt and write their message about abuse to hang on the clothesline. Few people participated in the campus event and there were about seven T-shirts hung on the clothesline.

Barbara Markley of Counseling Services hopes people draw strength from the display, understand that abuse and violence are never OK and that there are many ways to get help.

“The importance of abuse issues can not be underestimated because it affects every segment of society,” Markley said. “The staff and students of UAA are no exception.”

Markley thought the project’s most important element was the visual display.

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“There is a therapeutic aspect in knowing that each T-shirt is handmade by a victim of abuse,” Markley said.

The project began with 31 shirts, displayed on the village green in Hyannis, Mass., in October 1990 as part of an annual Take Back the Night March and Rally, according to the National Organization for Women’s Web site. Now there are between 35,000 and 50,000 shirts in projects nationwide.

“Doing the laundry has always been considered women’s work and in the days of close-knit neighborhoods, women often exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging their clothes out to dry,” said project organizer Carol A. Chichetto at www.now.org. “The concept was simple — let each woman tell her own story, in her own unique way, and hang it out for all to see. It was and is a way of airing society’s dirty laundry.”

The project offers survivors of abuse a chance to visually offer testimony to their survival. They could pick a T-shirt color to represent their type of abuse. White T-shirts were from murder victims, yellow and brown were survivors of physical abuse, blue and green were survivors of child abuse or incest, red and pink were survivors of sexual assault and rape and lavender represented lesbian victims of abuse. Each survivor wrote a message on her T-shirt and hung it on the clothesline.

One shirt read, “A women is like a flower…until someone comes along…tearing, pulling, smashing and killing the flower. Killing…self-esteem, self-respect, confidence, independence, until there is only the naked stem.”

By supporting the Clothesline Project, AWAIC is committing to its vision of a community with no domestic violence. AWAIC hopes to eliminate domestic violence by helping people to live and love without violence.