The Clothesline Project, a display of t-shirts decorated with messages of support for survivors of sexual or domestic violence, will return to O’Neill Plaza this week as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Women’s Center at Boston College sponsors the project during October and as part of Concerned About Rape Education (C.A.R.E.) Week, which will be held the last week of March.
In the summer of 1990, a group of women, many of whom had experienced some form of sexual or domestic violence, came together in Cape Cod, Mass. to develop an education program that they hoped would raise awareness about violence against women.
Rachel Carey-Haper, a visual artist and member of the coalition, was inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a project started in 1985 to remember those who had died from AIDS-related causes. The quilt, as of 2010 considered the largest piece of folk art in the world, is composed of panels memorializing those affected by AIDS.
The panels are very personalized and decorated with objects like clothing, stuffed animals, and other personal items that belonged to the person being remembered. Carey-Haper suggested that the Cape Cod group use a similar visual display to raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence, and it was out of this that the Clothesline Project was borne.
The project, like the AIDS quilt, was meant to be personal for those women affected by violence, but also served as a way for others to show support by displaying messages of care and hope. Survivors were encouraged to tell their stories by decorating t-shirts with words and artwork, and then asked to display them in a public area.
The project aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of violence against women; to empower those who have survived by providing them an outlet to share their stories; and to comfort those who are suffering in silence.
The first shirts—about 31 of them—were displayed in October 1990, on a village green in Hyannis, Mass. After local and then national media outlets reported on the project, it spread across the country. The organization now estimates that there are 500 projects in 41 U.S. states and five countries, with about 50,000 to 60,000 t-shirts being displayed.
Today the World Health Organization estimates that about 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced some form of sexual violence and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
The Obama administration has taken steps in recent months to combat the problem of sexual violence. In May the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report that included broad guidelines for how colleges and universities can use prevention programs, support survivors, and investigate crimes.
The University has recently created or expanded initiatives aimed at preventing sexual assault before it happens. This summer all incoming freshmen were required to complete the online program Haven, which covered issues related to the meaning of consent, the definition of “sexual assault,” and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
Also occurring this year, the Bystander Intervention program will train all freshmen on how to recognize and prevent sexual violence.
Those affected by sexual violence and seeking support can contact the University’s Sexual Assault Network (SANet) at (617) 552-2211. Trained advocates from the Boston College community staff the network.
Featured Image by Jordan Pentaleri / Heights Graphic