The grand ballroom at UVU was still and quiet. Every 10 to 12 seconds, a gong was struck, vibrating against the solemnity. What did it mean? Somewhere in the United States, a woman was being battered.
When a whistle was blown, it symbolized one reported rape. The only other noise breaking the silence at the event was the shuffling of shoes — people sauntering past hundreds of hanging shirts, each telling the story of a victim of abuse.
This is the Clothesline Project, an annual event at UVU that is part of a national campaign raising awareness about domestic abuse and sexual assault. For the event, hundreds of people filled out shirts telling stories of abuse, death as a result of abuse or messages of hope. Each shirt was put on display, and each color carried a different meaning:
Blue and green for incest and child sexual abuse.
Gray for emotional and verbal abuse.
Red, pink and orange for rape or sexual assault.
Black for people attacked because of a disability — just to name a few.
For Miranda Larson, a psychology student from UVU, the experience hit home as she remembered friends who have experienced assault.
“You don’t think about it until you read all the stories and you realize this is happening every day, thousands of times,” she said. “It’s awful.”
In fact, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reported every two minutes somebody is sexually assaulted in the U.S. Fifty-seven percent of those incidents are not reported to police.
Many of the shirts displayed shared details of what the victims endured physically, emotionally, religiously. For example, one shirt read, “He said he loved me after I tried to kill myself.” Another said, “I was 15. I thought I could trust my brother’s best friend.”
A large number of shirts expressed anger toward their abusers, saying, “Keep your hands and body to yourself!” and “Stop pretending it doesn’t exist.”
A smaller percentage of shirts spoke of hope and forgiveness: “I will survive and thrive.” “Your courage inspires awareness, change, hope.” One story hanging by a clothespin told of abuse that took place in one family for three generations in a row. The author expressed love for her children and declared, “The cycle ends with me.”
Purple shirts were written on by people attacked for their sexual orientation: “I was raped, beaten up, stabbed and left for dead. The only reason: because I’m gay.”
Chad Healey, another UVU student planning on studying behavior sciences, wandered through the racks of shirts, his eyes running back and forth across the displayed words.
“It’s real,” he said. “It’s like every single shirt is somebody telling you it’s real and it’s happening.”
The Clothesline Project has taken place at UVU twice a year since 1998. Healey believes the tradition must continue.
“People come and go through this school. This is just as important to men as it is to children and women because they need to know,” he said. “I honestly hope that somebody who has abused somebody can come in here and read the voices of the people so that he can realize what he’s done.”
Each year, abuse victims at BYU seek help from Women’s Services. LaNae Valentine, director of Women’s Services, says sexual assaults at BYU are often reported less than other cases.
“Most sexual assaults on our campus are acquaintance sorts of situations. If it’s an acquaintance, people don’t feel like they will be believed,” she said. “It’s easier to just hope it will go away and not talk about it.”
Next month Women’s Services will kick off a new campaign against domestic abuse. “We want to raise awareness that these things do go on,” Valentine said. “It’s really a campaign about engaging both men and women as allies in creating a culture of respect and nonviolence.”
Back at UVU, more viewers wander through the maze of shirts. Another whistle blows, and another gong rings as events like the Clothesline Project seek to slow the frequency.