Colorful Clothesline Display Draws Attention to Gender-Based Violence at Rutgers

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ— The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) at Rutgers University held their 16th annual Clothesline Project on September 18 at Voorhees Mall on College Avenue.

In 1998, the project began with the goal of providing an outlet for survivors of assault to share their experiences, and to reach survivors that did not want to talk to family, friends, or professionals.

“It started in the early 90's out of a women’s organization, called Cape Cod Women’s Agenda, and the inspiration for the clothesline came from the idea of ‘airing out dirty laundry’. If you have had these experiences, it’s not your dirty laundry; it’s somebody else’s. It’s the abusers’. It’s the perpetrator’s. It is not ours to hold on to,” said Laura Luciano, Assistant Director of VPVA.

The Clothesline Project gives people different ways to engage in the issue. They can walk around and read the t-shirts, or they can write a message on a t-shirt themselves.

VPVA’s Clothesline Project now includes over 400 shirts.

One survivor who made a shirt described her personal experience with sexual assault and how she overcame it.

"I would say more than anything to people that go through that experience to acknowledge it and just become stronger than that and not to put themselves in this box like, that’s all that I am now because of what this person did to me," the student said.

"It makes me real angry, but at the same time I know that I can still live my life."

Luciano said the goal of the project is to let “students, faculty, and staff know that these types of violence are happening here, on our campus, to our community. A lot of our students are walking around having had experiences that no one ever knows about.”

A student who visited the Clothesline shared his experience with witnessing an act of violence at Rutgers.

“It was almost the end of the first semester and it was a party thing that was going on. It was some frat party. There was this guy who was talking to a girl who was pretty drunk. It was at Scott Hall bus stop on College Ave. I don’t know if he was drunk or not. One thing led to another, and I could tell she didn’t like what was happening.”

The bystander then called his friend for help, and proceeded to confront the student, which resulted in an altercation.

The Clothesline Project is one of VPVA’s biggest awareness campaigns at Rutgers, drawing attention to the issue of violence.

"One of the things that I love about this particular campaign is that it is so visually stunning. It literally stops people in their tracks," said Luciano.

"It is just so beautiful, and then when you… start to read the shirts, you can really see the range of what people experience after they have been traumatized in someway," she continued.  "We see shirts that are very hopeful. We see shirts that are very sad. We see shirts that convey anger and frustration. And then we see shirts where people are clearly supporting someone that they love."

VPVA is preparing a 24-hour-long series of events that will bring awareness to gender-based violence in the near future.

24 Hour Truce is a program that was first done in 1995 by VPVA.  The inspiration for the program came from a speech that radical feminist writer, Andre Dworkin, delivered to the National Organization for Changing Men in 1983.

Dworkin's speech called for 24 hours of no violence against women worldwide, and challenged countries in war to cease all violence for just one day.

Each hour of the truce will have a different program, says the VPVA.  Programs will range from educational workshops, bystander intervention trainings, keynote speakers, and even yoga.

Special guests will include Wagatwe Wanjuki, the woman who coined the hashtag "#SurvivorPrivilege" in response to a column in the Washington Post downplaying the sexual abuse problem on college campuses, and Grace Brown, creator of the Project Unbreakable Tumblr, which increases "awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage the act of healing through art."

VPVA is also partnering with organizations like Rutgers University Programming Association to have a band perform in the late night hours to help keep the spirit alive.

During the final parts of the event, people will sign a pledge that will be used in their 1 Billion Rising campaign later in the year.

More information is available at the VPA website, vpva.rutgers.edu.