The UCLA Clothesline Project - Students Team with Survivors of Sexual Violence to Break the Silence

Westwood, Ca May 16th - Tuesday morning at 6 am, volunteers from the UCLA Clothesline Project began adorning the UCLA campus with t-shirts bearing the heavy weight of the voices and stories of survivors of sexual violence. These strategically colored shirts were carefully and respectfully pinned, one by one, on clotheslines strewn between trees where UCLA students, faculty, staff, and the public could easily walk through and read the mesmerizing messages. The red, green, purple, and gray cloth gently swayed in the cool breeze. From a distance, the Schoenberg Quad emulated a quotidian clothesline with wet laundry drying in the springtime sun.

Close up, however, the messages written in colorful markers, paint, and glitter were everything but mundane. Messages of strength, anger, pain, broken hearts, broken lives, lives rebuilt, lives ended, struggles, shame, resiliency, accomplishment, repair, rebirth, and most importantly survival, screamed off of the shirts. Although the campus was unusually void of student chatter, the voices of the survivors and their families/friends were loud and clear. Their messages and stories resonated throughout the quad and in the hearts and minds of the visitors. The ingenious simplicity of 'airing out' survivors' dirty laundry was powerful, solemn, heartbreaking, and intoxicating. It was an exquisite display of the resiliency of the human spirit.

Every 2.5 minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted (U.S. Department of Justice, 2003).

1/3 of girls in the world are forced into their first sexual experience (World Health Organization, 2003).

Only 1 in 16 rapists will ever spend a day in jail for their crime (RAIIN, 2003).

1 in 4 women (from age 14) experiences sexual violence by an intimate partner (World Health Organization, 2003).

In 2003, 1 in every 10 rape victims were male (RAIIN, 2003).

Tuesday marked the debut of the 2006 UCLA Clothesline Project dipslay. This non-partisan student organization aims to stop multiple and intersecting forms of sexual violence. They strive to break the silence surrounding sexual violence and raise awareness about this crime that affects everyone regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, economic status, and/or geographic location.

The Clothesline Project is a program started on Cape Cod, MA, in 1990 to address the issue of sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence. According to the Men's Rape Prevention Project in Washington DC, 58,000 soldiers died in the Vietnam War. During that same period of time, 51,000 women were killed, mostly by men who supposedly loved them. In the summer of 1990, that statistic became the catalyst for a coalition of women's groups on Cape Cod, Massachusetts to consciously develop a program that would educate, break the silence and bear witness to one issue - violence against women. The concept was simple - let each person tell their story in their own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate their shirt. Once finished, they would then hang their shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline. It becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt - by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of the pain of their experience and walk away. Finally, it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.

Currently, there are about 500 projects nationally and internationally at high school and university campuses. Combined, there are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 shirts. Approximately 700 shirts are displayed at UCLA. The UCLA Clothesline Project hosts shirt-making bees throughout the year at different centers throughout our community. Survivors are also welcomed to make their shirt in the privacy of their own home, which they may bring to the display at UCLA or one of the sites of the many bees. Survivors may also create shirts at the display inside of a tent in order to protect their confidentiality and anonymity. All survivors of sexual, gender-based, and domestic violence from all walks of life are welcomed to participate.

One of the aims of the Clothesline Project is to break the silence surrounding sexual violence by creating dialogue that dispels myths and stereotypes about sexual violence. Thus, the scope of the display reaches far beyond the shirts. Community programs that provide essential services for survivors and victims are present at the display. The Rape Treatment Center Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, The Gabriela Network, and Men and Women Against Domestic Violence, to name a few, provide on-the-spot counseling for those creating a shirt, provide general information on their services to the public, and are available to answer any questions one may have about their program and/or sexual abuse in general. Volunteers also hand out pamphlets that contain ample statistics on sexual violence, and useful resources for those who are currently suffering or attempting to heal from sexual violence.

A special addition to The UCLA Clothesline Project this year is, 'Mujeres de Juarez.' This display is in memory of the 430 women murdered and 600 women who have mysteriously vanished from Juarez, Mexico. These serial sexual homicides have haunted Juarez for nearly 14 years. White t-shirts with black silhouettes, the number of victims to date, or simply a question mark symbolizing the death, disappearance, and victimization of hundreds of women from Juarez were hung on a separate clothesline. This section gave these missing victims a voice that is screaming for help. While these women may be lost, they are most certainly not forgotten. 

 

The Clothesline Project is part of the Women for Change Week that takes place at UCLA from May 14th-May 20th. Held every spring, this week highlights the many achievements of women at UCLA. The Clothesline Project culminates with Take Back the Night, a public rally in Westwood to resist sexual violence and support survivors. Take Back the Night is a demonstration that will educate, empower, and unify individuals against sexual violence. It will be held on Thursday, May 18th, from 5pm-10pm in the De Neve Quad.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of help, please refer to the following resources:

Break the Cycle- Empowering Youth to End Domestic Violence
(888) 988-TEEN
Break the Cycle provides referrals and confidential legal assistance for females and males ages 12-22.

LACAAW
Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women
(310) 392-8381
(213) 626-3393
(626) 793-3385
24 hour rape & battering hotlines
LACAAW provides confidential counseling, support groups, hospital and criminal justice advocacy/ accompaniment, and self-defense classes.

LACAAW Stalking Hotline
(877) 633-0044
24 hour stalking hotline LACAAW Stalking Hotline provides information about warning signs, possible actions, personal safety, referrals and links.

Sojourn Services for Battered Women and their Children
(310) 264-6644
24 hour crisis line
Sojourn provides shelter to survivors and their children, support groups, on call emergency advocate network, legal advocacy, and referrals.

Rape Treatment Center Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center
(310) 319-4000 (option '2')
24 hour crisis line
The Rape Treatment Center provides FREE medical services, evidence collection, confidential counseling, support groups, and legal advice.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
1-800-656-HOPE
RAINN is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 448-4663

For more information on the UCLA Clothesline Project, click here.

For more information on Take Back the Night, click here.

For more information on Women for Change Week, click here.

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