T-shirts expose abuse on campus

Emma Carew

A multicolored T-shirt saying “Through all the pain, you’re not to blame. Love yourself and heal the shame,” dangled in Coffman Union Great Hall.

It was one of more than 75 T-shirts honoring victims of violent crimes against women through the Clothesline Project.

Chong Kim, a survivor of human trafficking, said she wondered how many more T-shirts would need to be designed before a change takes place.

On Friday, the Aurora Center sponsored the Clothesline Display in Coffman Union with Soroptimist International of Greater Minneapolis.

The display featured about 75 T-shirts designed over the years by female University students, faculty and staff members who have been victims of violent crimes or know someone who has.

The shirts are color-coded according to the nature of the crime, including sexual assault, domestic violence, incest and homicide, event coordinator Rebecca Hinds said.

The Clothesline Project is a national grassroots movement that allows survivors of violent crimes against women, as well as their friends and family, to design and decorate T-shirts as a part of their healing process, she said.

It’s also a sign that the community is recognizing the prevalence of violent crimes against women, Hinds said.

“These are all testaments that violence happens,” she said, “and as a community, we’re addressing it.”

The display is in conjunction with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, an international campaign that began at the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991.

Joan Cromer, previous president of Soroptimist International, said she thinks it is important for students to see the display and educate themselves.

In a 1999 study, the U.S. Department of Justice found that women aged 16 to 24 are most vulnerable to domestic violence.

Deb Didier, president of Soroptimist International of Greater Minneapolis, said, “It’s much easier to educate and prevent than recover and repair.”

She said she hoped the event would increase awareness among students, both female and male.

“By reaffirming, “No, it is not OK to treat women this way,’ ” Didier said, “(Nonabusive men) can set the example, and think about: What if it were his mother, sister or girlfriend?”

Kim said it saddened her to see the occasional male student come to the display, find it to be about women and violence, and leave.

Students who visited the event said they found it disturbingly honest.

“I think it was a good depiction of how violence is going on, and often you don’t even see it,” said Nikki Didier, former University student and daughter of Deb Didier.

“It’s weird to think that it’s happening at our age,” she said. “It seems like we should be having fun and learning at this age, and not dealing with this stuff.”

The display caused some students to reflect on their own lives.

“(The victims) are kind of anonymous here,” first-year economics student Laura Sebo said, “but it may hit closer to home than you think.”

It’s about breaking the code of silence, Kim said.

The subject is pertinent to all University students, Deb Didier said.

“With rates so high, you probably know someone who’s going through it,” she said, “even if they haven’t told you.”

One out of every six American women will be a victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according to a 1998 National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Additionally, one in four women will suffer abuse in their lifetime, according to Cromer.

The display also will be available for viewing Wednesday. There will be a safe, confidential place for any member of the University community wishing to create a T-shirt.