April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month and throughout the country, many events are taking place to raise advocacy for this traumatic phenomenon. Since 1990, the Clothesline Project has provided an interactive way to raise awareness of sexual assault and a canvas for sexual assault survivors and allies to express their voice.
In the summer of 1990, the Men’s Rape Prevention Project in Washington DC released a statistic stating that 51,000 women were killed mostly by men who supposedly loved them during the era of the Vietnam War. This alarming number set sparks for women’s groups on Cape Cod, Massachusetts to create a program that would educate people and reveal the issue of violence against women. Inspired by the AIDS quilt, Rachael Carey-Harper thought of using shirts and hanging them on a clothesline. In the 90’s, doing laundry was considered “women’s work” and women often exchanged information while hanging up laundry in compact neighborhoods. The idea was simple: a woman would tell her story by decorating a shirt using words and/or artwork. The finished product would hang on a clothesline. Back then and today, the goal for the project is to be an educational tool for those who saw the shirts, a way of healing for those who made a shirt, and to ensure that those suffering are not alone.
The first Clothesline Project consisted of 31 shirts. Today, there are over 500 projects internationally with 50,000-60,000 shirts. Shirts are now color coordinated to represent different experiences. White represents people who died because of violence; Yellow or beige represents those who have been battered or assaulted; Red, pink, and orange are for survivors of rape and sexual assault; Blue and green t-shirts represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse; Purple or lavender are for those attacked because of their sexual orientation; Black represents people attacked for political reasons and aqua represents the color for Sexual Assault Awareness Month and allies. Anybody who has experienced violence at any time in their life is encouraged to design a shirt. While this event is catered to women who have experienced violence, men who have faced violence, friends, families, and allies are highly encouraged to design shirts as well. A shirt gives someone a new voice to unveil an unspeakable experience and the next steps for a survivor to break through their silence.