Airing dirty laundry

The pulsating groan of a gong trembles the air in the Student Center’s Grand Ballroom syncopating the heartbeats of observers in attendance at this semester’s Clothesline Project exhibit.

Since 1998, it has been displayed here at least twice each year. The gong indicates a woman is reporting being assaulted. According to 1993 National Victims Center statistics, an assault is reported every 10 to 12 seconds.

The flagrant shriek of a whistle rips through the ambiance of the ballroom like a young child’s scream. There’s an air of palpable reverence. Few speak. Those who do, speak in whispers. The whistle indicates a sexual assault is being reported. According to 2002 Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network statistics, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes.

A demon wanders this space, intelligent yet degraded and animal in essence, a goat. Its presence is made known by the bell around its neck that jangles as the goat, this demon, moves about. The bell indicates a woman has been killed by her intimate partner. According to 2001 statistics from End Abuse, three to four women are killed by their intimate partners each day.

When orchestrated together, as they are, at The Clothesline Project, into a sort of perverse opus, the sounds serve as an auditory reminder of violence in the United States.

The clothesline project originated in Hyannis, Mass. in 1990 when members of Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda learned that during the time 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in Vietnam, 51,000 U.S. women were killed at the hands of the men who claimed to love them.

On colored t-shirts, hand-written stories tell first-hand accounts of various forms of abuse suffered by their authors. The t-shirts are strewn upon mock clotheslines, hence the name.

White is for people who died as a result of violence. Yellow is for survivors of physical assault Pink, Red or Orange is for survivors of rape or sexual assault. Blue or Green is for survivors of incest or childhood sexual abuse. Lavender or Purple is for survivors of attacks suffered due to perceived sexual orientation. Black is for those disabled as the result of an attack or assaulted because of a disability. Grey or Brown is for survivors of emotional, spiritual or verbal abuse.

Over the course of the two days that the shirts were on display, new shirts almost constantly streamed in from members of the UVSC campus community. 116 were newly recorded into the inventory; 72 in one day. Over the past years, since the displays have been on campus, the average has been 35 new t-shirts per semester. Is it a rising tide of abuse or have we just gotten better at branding ourselves?

The stories told on the t-shirts range from the most unimaginably horrific forms of murder and rape to rather commonplace incidents. To those who have truly suffered by the hands and words of others-usually loved ones it would seem-my heart goes out. But those whose experience could simply be chalked up to everyday life, it’s time to stop reeling and get real.

The Clothesline Project is meant to be a means of healing for victims of actual violence and also a means to facilitate awareness. Stories of mundane adversity hung alongside stories of humankind’s darkest deeds serves only to cheapen the objective of the exhibit and diminish the magnitude of its darkness, thus rendering the display a sort of perverse opus.

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