Clothesline displays survivors’ anguish

By Gus Bode

Clothesline Project gives voice to victims of violence

This is not the first time Greg Cliff has seen the graphic T-shirts depicting violence, but the number of shirts still amazes him.

“I’m just reminded of what a huge problem it is,” said Cliff, a senior studying English from Rock Island. “Because each one of these shirts I was told represents an actual occurrence of violence…that’s a lot of shirts.”


The T-shirt display was part of the Carbondale Women’s Center’s annual Clothesline Project, which is meant to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.

“It’s a wonderful way to raise awareness and get people involved,” said Camille Dorris, the executive director of the Women’s Center. “I don’t think people have an understanding of how deeply these issues permeate not only individual’s lives, but the community’s life.”

The project originally started in 1990 by a women’s group in Hyannis, Mass., and came from the concept that through the years, women have traditionally exchanged information while hanging their laundry in the backyard.

The Carbondale’s Women’s Center became involved with the project in 1994 and uses the shirts both to protest abuse and as a testament of survivors.

Dorris said the center displays the project throughout the year in different areas of Southern Illinois, but it is displayed most often during the months of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Along with other events, the Clothesline Project will be displayed next Thursday as part of Women’s Safety Week.

Volunteers from the center help set up the project and are on hand to inform spectators what the different colored shirts represent.

Five colors symbolize different situations victims of violence have experienced. White is for victims who have died as a result of domestic violence, yellow or beige is for survivors of domestic violence, red, pink or orange are for survivors of sexual assault. Blue or green is for survivors of incest, and purple or lavender is for people attacked because of their sexual orientation.


“Your eyes naturally go to it,” Dorris said. “After you begin to read it you realize these are human beings that these horrible things have happened to. It’s hard not to be touched by that.”

For Manson Qaasim, a junior studying electrical engineering from Chicago, this was the first time he was exposed to the project and found the T-shirt’s messages and pictures a “real attention getter.”

One of the T-shirts that caught Qaasim’s attention was a red shirt depicting a devil raping a woman.

“The one with the devil on it was really striking,” Qaasim said. “I mean, it’s an evil act. I’m just trying to soak it all in.”

Qaasim was not the only student taken aback by the graphic nature of the shirts.

Cliff also said the artwork on the shirts is what grabs his attention as he walks by the breezeway.

“Every year when I see it I stop because I think it’s really important,” Cliff said. “And I’m really glad to see that this is out here and I wish more students would stop.”

Cliff said he thinks that a lot of people are not willing to discuss the issue of sexual abuse and that some people are afraid of what the shirt’s messages implies.

Even though viewing the project was a class assignment for Cichi Ukabam, a junior studying health education from Carbondale, she was glad she took the time to really examine the shirts.

“It’s interesting because it’s so real,” Ukabam said. ” I was shocked by a lot, a lot of the children being abused, the rape, I mean people have died, that’s hard to bear.”

Ukabam said she thought the display was a good thing because she thinks a lot of people are in the dark about the issue and the display is a good way to get the message out.

Michael Graham, a sophomore studying business management from Springfield, also thinks displaying the shirts is a good way to spread the word about violence.

“This puts it in your face and I think it’s the best thing that can happen,” Graham said. “Because people actually walk by here everyday and you can’t help but read the shirts.”

Graham said even though the messages and artwork may seem disturbing to some, it is a real reflection of what the shirts creators have experienced.

“In a way they’re disturbing,” Graham said. “But in another way, this is what these people have been through. They’ve been hurt immensely.”