T-shirts flap messages into the wind

By Gus Bode

The Clothesline Project brings attention to Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Women deserve to be loved, not abused.

This sentiment was spelled out in puffy paint on a beige T-shirt that dangled from a clothesline in the Faner Breezeway Wednesday. And although it was just a single message from one victim of abuse, it almost sums up the message The Women’s Center hoped to convey by participating in The Clothesline Project.


The nationwide project allows survivors of abuse to decorate a T-shirt to express both their strength and pain and was localized by The Women’s Center as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The purpose is to educate the community and really make people see what sexual violence does, said Kristen Bein, medical and legal advocate for the center. The other part of it is silence is a very damaging part of the victimization. It’s incredibly important for survivors to make the shirt and for other survivors to walk by it, it lets them know they are not the only one.

More than 100 T-shirts flapped in the wind from clotheslines rigged between the concrete pillars on the south end of Faner.

Each shirt had its own message. Big black letters lined with colorful puffy paint spelled out I was 4, he stole, murdered, violated my childhood on one turquoise T-shirt. A blue child’s T-shirt with a green collar said Daddy’s little whore girl with the word whore crossed out.

The Clothesline Project began in 1990. Because doing the laundry was usually considered a woman’s job, neighbors would frequently share stories at the clothesline. Sometimes women would even need help so they would hang a certain color shirt from their clothesline to indicate they were in trouble. As part of a Take Back the Night rally, 31 T-shirts were designed by victims of abuse to give survivors a voice.

It’s a different way of expressing your voice, with the clothesline project their voices are definitely heard and it is definitely a part of the healing process, Bein said.

The Women’s Center constantly receives submissions for the clothesline and wasn’t able to display all of the T-shirts Wednesday, according to Bein. But the shirts that flew in the wind were enough to capture the attention of students passing by all day.


Chad Calabria, a senior in biological sciences from Bourbonnais, slowly walked past the line of T-shirts and stopped occasionally to get a closer look. He said the display was eye-opening and brought the pain the survivors felt to life.

It’s something you don’t really think about till you see a bunch of shirts, Calabria said. I like the way it’s set up, the colors just get your attention.

I know this stuff goes on but it makes you stop and think.

A lot of students have been impacted by the display, Bein said. The Women’s Center hangs the clothesline at least twice a year, once for Women’s Safety Week in October and again in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Ashley Cass, a junior in anthropology from Bartlett, first saw the clothesline project at the Lilith Fair, a concert that celebrates women’s contribution to music. As she passed the shirts in the Faner Breezeway she said she felt sorry for the victims and hopes their strength will bring awareness to other victims of sexual abuse.

It’s a good thing for victims to do, Cass said. It helps them deal with their pain and confusion.

The Clothesline Project sparked conversation among many people passing by the display all day Wednesday. Each T-shirt told a different story, some were more direct and others more subtle including one that proclaimed violence isn’t always visible, a message Bein agrees with.

[The project] is probably the best community education we have, Bein said. One of the biggest things for us is to celebrate survivors’ strength.

Reporter Ginny Skalski can be reached at [email protected]