This past Tuesday, October 13, 2015, the Clothesline Project was displayed at the University of Maryland, College Park. Around Hornbake Plaza were strung clotheslines with what appeared, at a distance, to be simple, decorated T-shirts. Approaching the display, however, the writing that covers them becomes clear and a nearby sign designates the area as part of the Clothesline Project. The T-shirts are suddenly far from simple.
The Clothesline Project is an effort to bring awareness to violence against women. It began in 1990, when members of Cape Cod Women’s Agenda in Massachusetts chose to stand against the high statistics of domestic violence in the United States. They chose a clothesline for its traditional representation of women’s housework, displayed it across their town square, and soon enough people began adding to it. The decorated shirts educate viewers and act as healing tools for survivors of violence, allowing them to express thoughts and emotions through words or art. Survivors may then hang their shirts up and literally turn their backs on some of the pain in their pasts.
Domestic violence may often happen behind closed doors, but it is a major source of physical and psychological suffering for a distressing amount of people. A study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that “between 1994 and 2010, about 4 in 5 victims of intimate partner violence were female,” which is one of the reasons the Clothesline Project was initially made for women. Also, according to the CDC, “on average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States,” which amounts to more than 10 million men and women in a single year. Today’s Project is for any survivor or victim of domestic violence, no matter their gender.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and programs such as the Clothesline Project that took place at the University of Maryland choose this time of year to host their events. A second Clothesline event will take place in April, for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It was, and will be, hosted by the CARE to Stop Violence Program, a branch of the University Health Center. Materials designed by the campus UHC were available at the event, to educate students on handling violence, helping survivors of violence, and for joining or contacting CARE.
The Project may take place only twice a year on campus, but combating domestic violence is a year-round effort, and the Clothesline Project is especially effective as a lasting and powerful image. Strings of T-shirts with hand-written messages and drawings about true and violent experiences, expressing a rainbow of emotions, drifting in an October wind.