According to the U.S. Department of Justice, almost one in four college aged women will have experienced rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives. This daunting statistic is the motivating force behind the Clothesline Project.
The colorful display of T-shirts in Squires on Tuesday represented the community coming together and sharing sexual assault victims' stories, as well as the stories of those that have been affected by sexual violence.
“So many students are completely unaware that this type of violence happens to people around them. When you read the (T-shirts) you start to realize that you probably know people that have experienced violence,” said Alyssa Seidorf, president of Womanspace at VT.
Since 1994, the Clothesline Project has been an effort to raise awareness of sexual assault by encouraging people to share their stories by decorating T-shirts. The event is sponsored by Womanspace, a feminist activist organization run by students with the goal of empowering women and girls.
Seidorf hopes that the Clothesline Project will open the community’s eyes to the prevalence of violence against women. “It draws people in and when they get closer they realize that these are stories of violence,” Seidorf said. “It really shocks people because violence is something that is typical but not talked about."
The display features T-shirts hung up side by side on a clothesline in the hopes to convey solidarity and strength of survivors in numbers. “What I find beautiful about the line is that it represents people standing shoulder to shoulder, breaking the silence about violence and standing up to it and being resilient,” Seidorf said.
The variety of colors in the T-shirts all represent a different type of story being shared, with each color representing a different type of violence or effect the violence has had on the creator.
Susan Anderson, the faculty mentor for the group, has been involved in the project since its conception in 1994 and has seen it grow from only 75 shirts to over 550 over the last 19 years. The display is put on twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring with various shirts rotating in and out each time.
“You have to tell your story, your survivor story, in a foot by foot section with pictures, graphics, words and poetry … and it’s pretty amazing that someone can give their story in that amount of space,” Anderson said.
“It affects students on a college campus,” Seidorf said. “Rates of violence are higher than in other parts of our society and your chances of being assaulted are higher when you’re in college.”
The Clothesline Project is part of a larger goal to raise awareness of the violence and also of the resources available for students at Tech. Womanspace works closely with the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech to provide help or counseling for those struggling with the damaging effects of sexual assault.
“It’s survivors sharing their stories and telling people 'You’re not alone,’" Anderson said.
After receiving feedback last year that the Clothesline Project can be a trigger for some that have been sexually assaulted, the group made it a point to advertise better when and where the display would take place so passersby could avoid it if it could be emotionally damaging.
“We do realize that it could be a trigger,” Seidorf said. “That’s one of the reasons we have two people staffing our info table at all time. We want to be aware of people looking at the line so if anyone seems to be looking troubled or emotional, we can be there to offer assistance.”
“It does make us sad that people would not prefer to see it and are exposed to it … but I think the greater good is getting the word out,” Anderson said.
According to Anderson, the Women’s Center has often reported a spike in visits after events like the Clothesline Project and the Take Back the Night rally, which occurs in March every year.
The Women’s Center offers a variety of resources such as individual and group counseling, information about criminal and civil options if an assault has occurred and medical assistance if needed.
Womanspace holds meetings every Thursday at 7 p.m. in McBryde 322.