How often do we think about domestic abuse? Incest? Rape? Maybe the thought passes when we hear a story about it on the news among the other terrible happenings in the world right now. Maybe we see it online as we browse the internet. How often do we think about the innocent people these acts of violence affect? Most people know or at least have heard of the statistic of one in every five women will experience sexual assault in their lives.
How much of an impact can a statistic make with anyone without seeing the reality of how many lives it touches? How often do we at UNCG think about the reality of domestic violence? This past week, from Aug. 21 to Aug. 25, the UNCG Department of Recreation and Wellness, along with student organizations and other departments on campus, established this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week.
During these five days, different events occurred to honor and support survivors of sexual assault, bring attention to the problem of its existence and promote safety. These events included Take Back the Night on Thursday, where students across campus gathered together and share their stories about sexual assault; another event on, Aug 22, was a screening of “Audrie and Daisy,” a documentary detailing the stories of two girls who were sexually assaulted by people close to them.
One event that stood out—literally—was the Clothesline Project. On Aug. 21, faculty, students and staff could create a T-shirt to share their story or honor a loved one who has suffered from domestic violence and sexual assault. Once the T-shirts were finished, the Zeta Xi chapter of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority hung the decorated t-shirts on the lawn of the Jackson Library.
The Clothesline Project isn’t a native to UNCG or even North Carolina. In fact, it was created in Hyannis, Massachusetts. In 1990, a member of the Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda recognized the harsh truth of domestic violence. Over 50,000 troops died fighting their enemies in the Vietnam War; and during that time, over 50,000 women in the United States died not by the hands of their enemies, but by their partners and people they loved most in the world.
27 years later, at universities like Southern New Hampshire University, St. Clair College in Canada and now UNCG, men and women use the Clothesline Project to speak out about their experiences with violence—to not be ashamed nor silenced by their assailants.
For five days, students and all members of the UNCG community could view the visual display of heartbreak, trauma and resilience. Many survivors shared their stories anonymously, but whether the name was known or unknown, people around campus could not help but stop, read and feel for those affected by domestic violence.
The hardest part about the Clothesline Project is having the courage to put something so personal on display for hundreds of people passing to see. In total, there were 68 shirts—68 stories of incest, physical and emotional abuse or rape. Most displayed stories involved family members, friends, partners or spouses. Others were in memory of those who did not survive domestic violence.
Here are just a few of the impactful statements one could see on the shirts from the Clothesline Project:
“This is REAL. These sad, horrible things HAPPEN. I’m sharing my story to inform. I am not looking for pity. I’m also sharing my story to find peace for myself and to someday be able to accept what happened to me and move on. I have suffered in silence for far too long. I was always worried that if a single soul found out it would be the end of the world. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It’s time for me to speak out and LET MY VOICE BE HEARD!,” “I am stronger! I now understand what love really is. Love should NOT hurt!,”“Never a victim, always a fighter,” “Let your story empower you,” “This does not define me,” “I am stronger” and “I’m free now.”
Surviving domestic violence isn’t easy. It is hard to move on from the memories and the trauma. Hopefully, with the help of the awareness the Clothesline Project presented and the opening of the Campus Violence Response Center in the Gove Student Health Center building, everyone can feel safe in sharing their stories, getting justice and finding peace with themselves.