This article was co-written by Elizabeth Porter and Eleanor Asma. Please listen to a portion of the above audio before reading the feature as the writing touches on some of the sentiments reflected in the audio.
At first, the gongs and whistles are eerie. Once you discover what they mean, they become harrowing.
Every time the gong rings on the 10-12 second mark, a woman in the United States is being battered by her significant other or husband. When the whistle blows, about once every minute, a woman has reported being raped. That doesn’t even include all the rapes that go unreported in this country. The bells are the least frequent. They represent a woman being killed by her lover or husband, which three to four American women are everyday. Of course, atrocities like these happen to men and boys too, and many of the shirts pay tribute to that.
The Clothesline Project came to Lake Forest High School this Monday. The eye-opening presentation featured a soundtrack, along with dozens of handmade tee-shirts covered with stories from survivors of domestic violence, incest, and sexual assault that are almost beyond comprehension. They feature exclamations of anger, despair, fear, regret, and hatred. But also of love, resilience, forgiveness, growth, and strength. It is undoubtedly difficult to read these stories from teens and young children, especially considering that every single one of them was written by community members across the North Shore.
People just like us.
Among the students silently observing the exhibit, many were visibly upset and all were clearly taken by the seriousness of the issue. Senior Julia Monfardini stated that “every student should come see this,” adding that, “there’s obviously a lot that should be worked on and needs to be talked about.” While it may be uncomfortable, events like The Clothesline Project are designed to start those important conversations. Julia added that reading these people’s stories will encourage high schoolers to think twice about their actions, because some of these attacks happened while one or both parties were under the influence of alcohol.
Junior Gina Sobhy explained that the event brought awareness to how abuse is far more common than we tend to think, and that it is a good reminder to keep our eyes open for it. Senior Jack Powers said he was surprised at how many white shirts there were, because white signified that someone had died. He and fellow senior Owen Clarke thought the speaker soundtrack was frightening, knowing what the sounds represented.
According to a volunteer who works with Response, a teen social services organization, the main intention of The Clothesline Project is to create a visual memorial to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. They bring the tee shirts to different high schools and camps all over the U.S. to spread awareness about individuals’ horrific experiences and to encourage survivors to seek support and share how their story has affected them mentally, physically, and emotionally. After seeing the exhibit, survivors can make tee-shirts to add to the collection if they want to.
The World Health Organization estimates that 150 million girls and 73 million boys are victims of child sexual abuse worldwide. According to TEDx, about 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys will become victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. According to U.S. News, in 2014-2015 Lake Forest High School’s student body consisted of 1,674 students–870 male (52%) and 804 female (48%). Using that same statistic, 268 girls and 290 boys at Lake Forest High School will have been sexually abused before they graduate.
Being sexually assaulted impacts survivors for years. According to the Rainn organization, one third of women who are raped contemplate suicide. In addition, “84% of survivors who were victimized by an intimate partner experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school.”
Above all else, the main takeaway from the Clothesline Project for any survivor is that people are here to support you and it is important to tell your story. By telling your story you can begin the long process of healing and help encourage other survivors to come forward.
Social workers were present at the event to provide support to any students who felt they needed it. It is important for students to remember that every LFHS student has a social worker and psychologist assigned to them by last name. You can reach out to any social worker via email or go to Student Support Services and ask to talk to someone. If you are worried about a friend you can tell a counselor their name and it will be kept confidential. If you are not comfortable seeking help at school, the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center is a great resource in the community.
Mrs. Harmsen stressed the importance of seeking adult help if you have been affected by sexual assault or domestic violence. While friends are a great place to find support, if you don’t get help it can lead to unhealthy coping including PTSD. Lastly, it is vital to remember that you should never feel ashamed or guilty about violence you have endured, no matter what the circumstances were.