On October 28th, the Assault Violence Education and Resource Team (AVERT) sponsored the unveiling of the Clothesline Project, an initiative undertaken by the YWCA Meelia Center Coordinators Abby Roden and Meagan Savage, The Harbor, and AVERT, among other community partners. The unveiling provided students the opportunity to view the many shirts left behind by Saint Anselm community members in order to raise awareness in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The YWCA has been collecting different shirts all month in order to provide survivors of assault, as well as their allies, an opportunity to courageously break the silence on the subject of sexual assault and domestic violence. Survivors of domestic relationship violence were given purple shirts, survivors of sexual violence were given teal shirts, and allies of these survivors were given white shirts. Recipients were told to decorate the shirts with either their personal stories, a motivational message, or anything else they thought would inspire viewers to do their part to break the silence. Once decorated the recipients could leave the shirts in various drop-boxes across campus to protect anonymity.
The unveiling gave students an opportunity to view the shirts in an intimate setting before the project went on display in the common space of the Jean Student Center. Everyone in the room could feel the severity and necessity of the project as we shuffled one by one to view the many shirts left by our community members. Some told detailed stories, some only told small parts, and some simply described the feeling that came with being subjected to this particular kind of violence. Although each shirt was different, all of them held intense power that made it impossible to look away and imperative to understand the domestic violence and sexual assault epidemic that our society is faced with.
As the ceremony began, Katie Parent from the YWCA offered some historical background on the Clothesline Project. It started in the 90s as a way to give survivors a way to express their stories in a non-intimidating way. This theme of breaking silence has continued and grown in the movement to raise awareness of sexual assault which is why the project has remained so successful over the years. Katie expressed that “they (instances of sexual assault/domestic violence) happen in silence and silence allows it to continue happening”. Giving survivors an opportunity to break the silence on sexual assault in a way that does not put them in harm’s way is essential to fighting back against sexual assault and domestic violence.
Saint Anselm senior and one of the YWCA coordinators for the Meelia Center, Abby Roden, offered attendees the opportunity to take a moment of empowerment while recalling the sentiments that we had seen expressed in the shirts. Roden explained that as opposed to a moment of silence, a moment of empowerment was more necessary when it comes to sexual assault and domestic violence. There is plenty of silence already on the issue, what is needed is not more complacency but self-empowerment to do your part to end the stigma.
This call to action was an exceptionally moving part of the ceremony. Especially on a college campus, it is vital that we are all remaining educated on the reality of sexual assault and domestic violence so that we can address it when we see it, and so that we can push for change to empower survivors rather than the assailants. While it is important to empower survivors, we should not have to rely on them to push for change when the healing process can take years and may never be fully realized.
We all have a stake in this conversation, and we should be doing everything in our power to create an atmosphere where survivors feel empowered to report their assailants as well as heal in peace. As Katie echoed, assailants thrive in silent atmospheres where sexual assault is not talked about or reported. Survivors think that their stories will not be heard, or believed. The question remains, how can we dispel this silence when our school too often is also silent and unsupportive of the fact that its students are having consensual sex before marriage?