By Stephen Vincent
The stories in the Clothesline Project are so blunt that even the woman who puts it together admits she can”t spend more than an hour reading them.
“It”s hard to read them, but that makes you think how much harder it must be to live the stories,” said Jenny Chamberlain, director of Utah Valley State College”s equity center and the one who puts the project together.
The Clothesline Project is comprised of the stories of domestic abuse survivors written on T-shirts and hung on a clothesline.
Beginning this weekend, the project will be on display at The Quad at UVSC, which is near the food courts.
Chamberlain said by telling their stories, women who have been abused can sometimes free themselves of the pain they”re holding onto.
The project”s purpose is to help victims by giving them a way to express their pain and to help them know they are not alone.
“We”re trying to move them from victim to survivor to thriver,” Chamberlain said.
The people behind the project also hope it will alert the community to the problem of domestic violence.
Those working on the project know the stories on the T-shirts can be difficult for people to read.
“This is the rough side of life,” said Joel Bradford, a project team member. “The subject matter is the type that most of us in Utah Valley would like to stick our head in the sand and pretend it doesn”t exist.”
The stories bluntly tell each survivor”s story.
One woman, for instance, tells how her ex-husband verbally abused her. One time, he chased her down the street and began choking her.
The same T-shirt also tells of how the woman”s cousin sexually abused her 4-year-old son.
Another T-shirt reads: “For Melissa who had to wear jeans for a month to hide where her stepdad beat her with a hanger. And Jonathan who stills has scars on his back from his dad. Please help!”
Several T-shirts tell of children being sexually abused. Another tells of a woman teased about her figure so much that she developed eating disorders trying to keep the weight off. Another T-shirt maker wonders if her dad abused her as a way to maintain power.
In all, the Utah Valley project, which is in its 5th year, has gathered about 150 T-shirts from survivors of domestic abuse that live in Utah County. And all these stories combine to tell of a serious problem in this area, and that, say project organizers, can affect people who were previously unaware of the problem.
“The vast majority of people (who view the project) end up feeling very sober and often talk about how it”s an important issue,” Chamberlain said. “They say they didn”t realize this was happening.”
Roger Wise, a UVSC professsor who has been involved with the project for three years, said he wanted to fight against abuse when he saw the effect it had on some of his students.
“The more I know and learn, the more I feel the need to do something about the problem and the victims,” said Wise, who is also a member of Bikers Against Child Abuse.
Chamberlain said men, like Wise, can help curb abuse.
Chamberlain said the reason some men become abusive is because they believe it is the macho thing to do.
“Men are very much influenced by other men”s beliefs,” Chamberlain said. “It”s important for men to not validate the idea that it”s OK to abuse women.”
Chamberlain said men who want to stand up for non-violence can do so by pulling aside other men who make sexist or violent comments and informing them that those attitudes are inappropriate.
Chamberlain said women likewise have a similar responsibility to not validate those “tough-guy” attitudes. She said women who treat violent behavior as manly only contribute to the problem.
“Women also need learn to say ”no” and realize they can”t change a person,” said Amy Laird, the intern in charge of the project.
Chamberlain agreed with Laird that women shouldn”t expect to change men who are violent.
“If there are signs of violence, get out,” she said.
Chamberlain said another thing that people wanting to fight domestic abuse can do is to get involved in the community and raise awareness of the problem.
The secretive nature of abuse is the reason why its seriousness is often hidden, she said.
By publicizing the amount of help that is available to survivors, Chamberlain said women in abusive relationships will not feel trapped; instead, they will seek help.
“I”m looking forward to the day when I no longer have a job because there is no more violence,” Chamberlain said.
Abuse survivors who attend the project can get information about the various groups and resources available to them and get whatever help they need.
Chamberlain said it is important to note that 70 percent of survivors do not end up being abusers.
She said domestic abuse needs to be seen for the serious act that it is.
“It”s a crime, and it does get prosecuted,” Chamberlain said.
Survivors of domestic abuse can get a T-shirt to write their story on when they visit The Clothesline Project. They can write stories there in a private cubicle area, or they can take it home and work on it.
The project was previously at BYU. But Chamberlain said it was moved to UVSC for “unclear reasons.”
The project organizers, however, still have the T-shirts from BYU”s project, and they hope that the project can return to BYU.
“I”m afraid that the majority of students would be astounded at the amount and types of violence and abuse that have been suffered by their fellow students,” Wise said. “It”s not a pretty thing to contemplate, but it is real, and it affects all of us.”
And while the T-shirts do depict the darker sides of life, one offers a message of hope from the survivors of abuse: “The best revenge is living life well.”