Friday, October 7, 2011

Article: Facing the Pain

"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

These words can be read on a t-shirt that hangs among many others in the Memorial Union Ballroom.

October is domestic violence awareness month, and UND is raising awareness by hosting the 17th annual Clothesline Project this week, October 3 – 7, in the Memorial Union Ballroom. The Clothesline Project is a t-shirt display that is meant to demonstrate the effects of violence in the community. Each shirt represents a person's story or experience and is decorated by a victim of domestic violence or by a family member or friend of the victim.

Each color of shirt signifies a different type of violence. White shirts symbolize those who have died as a result of domestic violence. Yellow shirts represent battered or assaulted women. Pink or orange shirts are for those have been raped or sexually assaulted. Blue or Green shirts represent survivors of incest or childhood sexual abuse. Purple or lavender are for those attacked due to their sexual orientation and red are for those children who have witnessed violence in their homes.

In addition to the t-shirts, audible reminders of the level of violence in the United States are also present in the Ballroom. A gong sounds every 10 to 12 seconds to signify that a woman is being battered. A whistle sounds every minute to signify that a woman has reported a rape. A bell is rung every 10 to 12 minutes to indicate that a woman has died as result of intimate, personal violence.

The writing on the shirts serves a variety of purposes. Some tell of pain, some tell of triumph and some tell of hope.

During the project, 778 of those who decorated t-shirts were adult victims and 246 were child victims.

One shirt made by an adult read, "You said you loved me so how could you abuse me, your wife and the mother of your children? How? Why?"

Some were made by current or past students of UND. One read, "To all the men of Sigma ____; Is ‘brotherhood' really that special to you? You know he's a RAPIST, but still call him brother. Is your bond more important than the dignity of another?" This t-shirt also had a picture of a fraternity house with a UND flag on it.

Another UND student told her story about a stalker in her residence hall who would tell her about ways he wanted to rape her. She had incriminating messages that she received from him on her phone, yet the police wouldn't help her. Her shirt said, "I was afraid to go outside my dorm. Why didn't the police help me?"

Yet another said, "You're so ‘responsible' that they made you student body President- so take responsibility for what you did- You raped me!"

Some shirts expressed permanent damage such as, "The mind does not forget what the body does," while many advocated hope and change.

One hopeful survivor wrote, "He may have broke my heart… but he didn't break my spirit! I survived."

Some spoke about the healing process. "My life's like a puzzle now and I'm slowly putting the pieces back together."

For some, though, there was no chance for recovery. White shirts in the Ballroom represent those who have already lost their lives to these types of violence.

Several of the shirts have "In loving memory" written on them, as well as reasons for being missed by their dead family members or friends.

Some shirts also display religious symbols. One quotes Proverbs 3:5, which reads "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Still others speak of the effects of the victims' death on their bereaved family members. "When she died, I thought I would die. But I lived to stop the violence."

Whatever method is used, the shirts and sounds provide a powerful visualization of the violence in the Grand Forks community and around the country.

The Clothesline Project will continue until Friday, October 7.

The event is primarily sponsored by the UND Women's Center, but also received help from the Community Violence Intervention Center, The United way of Grand Forks East Grand Forks & Area, and ND Council on Abused Women's services. Anyone with questions or an interest in volunteering should contact the Women's Center at 777-4300.

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