The Clothesline Project - A Display Hosted by UNCG

This display of The Clothesline Project was hosted by UNC Greensboro, in Greensboro North Carolina.
This display of The Clothesline Project was hosted by UNC Greensboro, in Greensboro North Carolina.

VIDEO -- "Take Back the Night"

The UNCG Clothesline Project

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro recently hosted a variety of events in conjunction with R.A.I.N.N., the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. The Office of Student Health Services and a number of the University's Greek Organizations worked together to host this peer education event series, consisting of The Clothesline Project display, a rally led by engaging speakers who are survivors of abuse, a march, and a candlelight vigil.



RAINN was instrumental in providing speakers for the event. UNCG Student Health Services Sexual Violence Prevention Lead Advocate, Tina Fitch explained to the gathered crowd that the speaking portion of the event was special, in that it was organized entirely by survivors.

The artistic centerpiece for this event was The Clothesline Project, sponsored by UNCG's department of Student Health Services, and collegiate Greek organization Alpha Chi Omega. The project features t-shirts created by survivors of rape and abuse. The concept is that by "hanging out society's dirty laundry" the public learns that this type of assault is all too common, and is never the fault of the victim. Take time to view the pictures of the t-shirts hung on UNCG's clothesline. The stories written on the shirts are somber, sad, inspiring, and at times shocking.

I am honored to have been invited to cover this moving educational program. I hope that these pictures will educate the public on the frequency and violence of abuse and sexual assault. Additional content, in the form of text, video, and photos is coming soon, so check back here for more content that will hopefully let survivors of abuse know that they are not alone, and that there is help available.

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It is hard to say whether this shirt is the work of a survivor of a specific indecent, or if it is a piece designed to educate people on some of the general themes and concerns that arise from violence against women.

Regardless of the exact nature of the artist's intent, it remains highly relevant. As you view the pictures of the various shirts, you will see that this type of violence doesn't simply hurt the direct survivor of an attack, but the loved ones in that person's life as well. It is important to understand how far reaching the effects of violence are.

Below:

The majority of abusive acts and sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Often a survivor of domestic or sexual violence is forced to continue interacting with their attacker. Silence as a society and culture of blaming the victim allows this to continue.

Below: The Clothesline Project was an artistic element to a full rally, march, and candlelight vigil to promote awareness and educate the public. At the event I learned that organizations and educators that work in prevention and support, refer to those attacked as survivors, not as victims. It is the first step for a person affected by violence to heal and feel their own strength again.

Right & Below: People that suffer through sexual and domestic abuse are often made to feel alone, or like they have no options to escape their abuser. Those who victimize women and children count on isolation to keep their prey in this situation. Every time someone speaks out about their experience, they are holding out a hand for someone else who is being victimized.

When the abused can see they are not alone, they are more able to seek the help that they need to escape a bad situation. This is the gift that every survivor provides to another by sharing their difficult experiences. Each of these T-shirts represents a woman speaking out, to take back her own power, and to share that power with someone else in need.


Domestic violence harms more than just the direct target of the abuse. This woman is affected by the death of her cousin, as is her family. The most unfortunate victim is the 3 year old boy left without a mother or a father.
Domestic violence harms more than just the direct target of the abuse. This woman is affected by the death of her cousin, as is her family. The most unfortunate victim is the 3 year old boy left without a mother or a father.

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#1 Rule: Get Help

If there is anything that you should take away from The Clothesline Project, it's that if you're a survivor you're not alone.


No one can understand exactly what you've been through, but there are people who can help. These terrible acts are all too common, and there are many survivors who have dealt with similar experiences, who are ready to help, offer support, or simply listen. The worst thing you can do is suffer in silence. Bottling up the damage that has been done only serves to hurt you more, and to allow a dangerous predator off the hook to potentially harm someone else.

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It can be hard to trust after an incident of domestic or sexual abuse. it can be hard to trust new people, and equally hard to trust loved ones and friends. It can be easy to lose faith in the things you find most important. Don't let that happen.

If you are a survivor of abuse, or you know someone who is, look for healing and support. The woman who made this shirt doesn't blame God for what happened to her, nor did she let the cruel actions of someone from her church group ruin her faith.


It's not easy to hold onto faith and trust after experiencing violence. Get help, offer help.

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13 years is too long to suffer silently and alone. If you know someone who has survived assault or abuse, encourage them to speak up and get help. By showing support and encouragement, you're not only helping a survivor, you're helping the community.

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A 14 year old raped and left to mother a child. Don't let anti-science politicians or pundits say that rape cannot cause pregnancy.

Shame Breeds Silence:

Statistically, they say that one out of three women will be the victim of sexual assault in their lifetime.


This only accounts for reported rapes. In truth the number of assaults must be much higher.


Until we develop a culture where women (and men) feel comfortable reporting sexual abuse and assault, without shame, we will never know the real toll this crime has on our society.


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The print on this T shirt was too small to photograph, but the image of blood speaks volumes.

Many Survivors Suffer in Silence:



"As a massage and physical therapist, and as a minister, I have dealt with a number of women and some men who have been abused. Among the women I’ve known in my life, from both my private and professional circles, the statistic of abuse seems higher than one in 3. It seems closer to 50%, it may even be as high as 2 out of 3.


Statistics rely on victims to report their assault, which often does not happen. It’s easy to see why the statistic may be undercounted."

National Sexual Assault Hotline

800-656-HOPE

Hope is out there and help is available. Call 800-656-4673.

Complex Emotions Involved in Risky Behaviors:



Some women who are sexually assaulted undergo a period of sexual promiscuity after their attack. Two survivors I spoke with described going through a period of sexual activity that might be frowned upon by society.


Having discussed this at length both women feel that it is a coping mechanism where the victim provides a reason and rationality to an unreasonable act. A person asking why "God" or society would let this happen, provides a reason for themselves. By behaving in a way that might be called "slutty" or dangerous the victim feels like they deserved what happened to them. There is a complex storm of feelings. The women also described feeling like sex was out of her control, or that she now had nothing to lose; so why not cut loose?


While this may seem like a backward step, it is often a necessary first step. You can't heal from something without first understanding why it happened to you. There is no reason why rape should happen, and by providing a reason, even one evolved from self-destructive feelings, the road to recovery begins.


Two things become clear. The sooner that society can embrace a survivor and let them know not to be ashamed, the sooner that person can begin healing. Also, it is important to check in with survivors. While healing can begin from an initially destructive behavior, it can't continue that way. Without proper guidance and support, a survivor can't grow away from negativity and will be consumed.


RAINN is not the only resource available to survivors and their friends and families. At RapeIsDotOrg (www.rapeis.org) there is a wealth of information, including:

- Contact information for hotlines, educators, and public speakers.

- Resources for starting your own information or intervention programs.

- Presentation materials.

Abuse Inside Marriage

Abuse or sexual assault inside a marriage can be one of the most difficult crimes to prove for a survivor. Survivors are often made to feel responsible by lawyers and criminal authorities during examination and questioning. This predisposition for shaming the survivor is increased when they are married to the perpetrator.

Only awareness and public education can help to break down these injustices which are all too common in our society.

Incest and Familial Abuse

Incest is not the only type of abuse a survivor may suffer at the hands of a family member. Physical and emotional abuse can be as hurtful and devastating, with life changing effects.

Survivors of rape and abuse need to be heard. They need our understanding, patience, a willing ear, and support. Rape and sexual abuse are uncomfortable topics. Most people don't want to talk about them. I have often encountered anger from people for merely bringing up the topic of conversation.

Sexual assault is a painful topic. No one wants to talk about it any more than a person wants to be abused. Predators count on our discomfort to breed silence. Silence is the weapon of abusers and serial rapists. Those who would violently sexually dominate others count on our embarrassment, shame, discomfort, and silence to continue committing these crimes.

The woman who made this shirt included this picture of her mother, who died at age 43 as a victim of domestic violence.
The woman who made this shirt included this picture of her mother, who died at age 43 as a victim of domestic violence.

Right and Below:

I had the great pleasure of speaking at length with the woman who made this shirt. The shirt is for her mother, who died after enduring years of abuse from a family member. It eloquently demonstrates the web of people who are affected by the harm of a single predator and one survivor.

Although the woman who made the shirt is a mother with grown children of her own, she laments that her mother didn't live to see the growth and accomplishments of her family. The family also misses the connection to a mother, sister, cousin, and grandmother.

The way this web of damage spreads outward from the survivor, we have every reason as friends, family, and a society to speak about these crimes and stop the predators from striking again.

Even in the face of tragedy, this woman beamed with pride while sharing with me the accomplishments of her family members and with celebrating her mother's life. Truly, a candle in the darkness.

Band Back Together (Bandbacktogether.org)

BandBackTogetherDotOrg is an online community where survivors and advocates can band together to discuss issues and share support.

They have Resources for Date or Acquaintance Rape at this link.

National Sexual Violence Research Center

NSVRC compiles data for educational purposes aimed at preventing sexual violence. Visit NSVRC at their website by clicking the link.

Men Are Also at Risk

Rape is a problem that doesn't just affect women. Men are also at risk, especially in prison situations. The staggering percentage of inmates raped in prison (of both sexes) has forced the FBI to re-examine and redefine the crime of rape.

Learn more about the problems and cover-ups inherent on this web page on prison rape (click).

Alcohol Cancels Consent

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It's not just a catchy slogan.


One of the speakers at the rally reminded the crowd that you cannot give sexual consent when you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Be aware that if a person consents to sex while impaired, they may feel very differently when they awaken sober.


Take Back the Night has a website with a wide array of resources, at www.takebackthenight.org

Pandora's Project

Pandora's project offers resources and support for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. On their page for Friends, Family Members, and Partners of Rape and Sexual Abuse Survivors, they define these friends and loved ones as "Secondary Survivors".

Rape Pregnancy is Rare

You'd expect a pro-life Christian website to have misinformation and questionable facts. However, this page at Christian Life Resources, written by an MD, explains using real science and statistics why pregnancies from forcible rapes are rare.

The author of the article rebukes comments such as the insensitive and ignorant comments made by Todd Akin about women's bodies "shutting down a legitimate rape pregnancy." He explains that sociological factors such as the percentage of naturally sterile men and women, and medical factors such as the majority of attackers not leaving traces of semen are what lowers the rate of such pregnancies.

(continues below)

(continued from above)


The Doctor goes on to explain that among forcible rape pregnancies less than half are aborted. He continues, explaining that in his studies, the most painful and difficult thing reported by women raising a child of rape, is the lack of support (and often ill will) of the community at large. "If we would show these women support and not shame, how many more would keep that pregnancy," he asks. He says that the concern of pro-life Christians should be to show these women support, love and respect.

Violence Begets Violence

The program speakers before the campus march were organized by RAINN and UNCG, some of whom are now professional speakers, who share their ordeal.

After the march, the crowd was invited to come to the microphone and speak to share an experiences related to domestic and sexual violence. One young man spoke of the daily struggle to control the feelings of wanting to lash out and hurt the predator who'd raped his girlfriend.

Many of the shirts hung on the clothesline speak of the pain of wanting to hurt or even kill the person who attacked and harmed their dear family members, friends, and loved ones.

The young man who spoke offered that we must act to break the chain of violence, not add to it. Many of us have a friend or loved one who has met with physical, domestic, or sexual violence. There is help for this as well. It's no good keeping these injuries bottled up. The point of The Clothesline project is to start discussion so that healing can begin.

National Sexual Assault Online Hotline

If ever you or someone you know is in need of help, and can't access a telephone, RAINN has a 24 hour a day online hotline where trained responder are available to chat with about your needs or concerns.

Click the link to visit the website for access to the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline.

One Billion Rising

One Billion Rising is a movement inspired by music and dance to empower women and men of any age to take ownership of their bodies by expressive dance.

Learn more about this movement and breaking the chain of abuse at the One Billion Rising Blog.

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Men are not the only sexual predators, and women are not the only targets of abuse. Sexual assault is not defined by the gender of the attackers, the survivors, or their previous relationship.

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"My Grandmother told me I couldn't call it rape because he was my boyfriend."


All too often, survivors of abuse or sexual assault are told their feelings are wrong. Antiquated ideals of A women's "place", of submission to men, of suffering in silence, of tacit consent by association perpetuate this tragedy.


Many older women (and men) have suffered through these traumatic events as part of a less enlightened society. They don't mean to be insensitive to the plight of people victimized today, they've been taught a paradigm that is no longer appropriate.


Education helps us all. Don't be afraid to speak.

Some survivors continue to be harassed by their attackers. Why do we perpetuate a culture that shames the victim and allows a violent predator to continue to sting someone they hurt? If you know a survivor, support them, don't silence them with shame
Some survivors continue to be harassed by their attackers. Why do we perpetuate a culture that shames the victim and allows a violent predator to continue to sting someone they hurt? If you know a survivor, support them, don't silence them with shame

Is There Victory Against Rapists?

After years of activism against rape and molestation, I moved on to other projects because I felt I'd made no progress and could have no victory against the monsters and aggressors that commit rape and abuse.


How do you win?

How Do you win?

How do you beat the rapists?

Can you?


The speakers, survivors, and supporters I met at this event taught me there is victory against the rapists. You win by surviving. You win by going on with your life. You win by loving and supporting survivors and each other. You are winning every day. You are strong and beautiful. Nothing will ever take that every day.


Seize your victory and hold it to your heart.


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