Clothesline Project: Healing for domestic violence survivors
As Cassie Hebel from Tahoe Women’s Services said, “It’s hanging up dirty laundry for everyone to see.”
But when Sierra High School students helped hang T-shirts for the Eastern Sierra Clothesline Project, it wasn’t for a home economics class.
Students helped hang approximately 60 T-shirts in their school, each designed by women survivors of rape, incest and domestic violence or their families or friends. Some of the shirts represent women who have died as a result of violence. The T-shirts are color coded to represent different types of violence.
The shirts, displayed at the high school, represent women survivors in the Truckee-Tahoe community.
“They (the students) were open to gain awareness to domestic violence in their community,” said Hebel, TWS client services coordinator.
And that’s the point of the Clothesline Project – to be a visual reminder.
For many of the students, the experience was both touching and healing – and opened up a dialogue some had not had before.
“Having the shirts up seems to be a good catalyst for helping the kids talk about things – to get them to think about things and ask questions they may not normally ask,” said SHS counselor Debbie Sanchez.
“Just wandering around, having conversations with students while they were hanging shirts, I noticed they seemed to be more open to talk about things,” she said.
The project is a visual display of shirts with written messages and illustrations that graphically demonstrate the impact of violence against women. The purpose is to educate, to mourn those who have died as a result of this violence but most importantly, said Hebel, to bear witness to a woman’s courage to survive and heal.
Some of the students had experienced some of the messages written on the T-shirts. Some students made their own shirts.
“Just making my shirt helped me vent a lot of pain about something that was happening to me,” said one female Sierra High School student. She talked about what it was like standing in the middle of the circle after the T-shirts were hung.
“It makes you feel like you’re not the only one,” she said. “Some of the shirts were exactly what happened to me.”
Sierra High School students and staff invited Tahoe Women’s Services to bring the project to the school and hang the display. Students voted unanimously to participate in the project. TWS has been involved with a local Clothesline Project for four years, but this is the first year they have worked with students, Hebel said.
“They (the students) were really into it,” Hebel said. “Usually the teen-age kids are open to this sort of thing – they want change, they want the bad things to go away. Their involvement was wonderful.”
Just reading the shirts as they were being hung struck an emotional chord with many of the students.
“It was like therapy for me,” said another student, who made her own T-shirt. “Maybe another girl will see my T-shirt and maybe someone will realize not to be as naive as I was and maybe something will be prevented from happening.”
Added another student, “It’s good advice. People can see the violence and the killing that’s going on. Maybe people will see violence is not the answer.”
“It makes us feel sad to look around and see all this violence that goes on,” she said.
The impact of the messages on the T-shirts didn’t just touch the female students.
“I was going to make a shirt about a friend of mine who died last year,” said one male student. “The shirts were an emotional experience for me. It makes me think about things in my own life that I didn’t realize until now.”
The students helped prove the power the Clothesline Project emanates. It made them start thinking and feeling. It made them sad, it made them feel strong.
“It’s a healing event,” Hebel said. “It’s an awareness event. It’s about creating community education.”
The local Clothesline Project has its roots in the national Clothesline Project, which began almost 10 years ago in Hyannis, Mass. Currently, there are more than 100 Clothesline Projects in communities nationwide.
As event organizers reiterate, at some point in our lives, everyone will all be touched by violence, either through someone they know, or by being a victim themselves. The following statistics are important to keep in mind.
— Every 15 seconds a woman is battered. (American Medical Association)
— Every single minute of the day more than one woman is raped in America. (U.S. Justice Department)
— Before the age of 18, one out of three girls and one out of four boys will be victims of incest or sexual assault. (Survivors of Incest Anonymous)
— In isolated rural areas of California, the rate of domestic violence is higher than most urban areas. (Wild Iris News)
The project can go up at any time, said Hebel. Women can also schedule shirt-making workshops throughout the year.
The names of Sierra High School students quoted were kept confidential at the request of school administration.
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