The RSVP Center’s Clothesline Project tells survivors’ and supporters’ stories

The Clothesline Project started in Massachusetts in 1990 and has now spread to 41 states and five countries.

A colorful clothesline hung halfway across Lowry Mall on Thursday displaying numerous T-shirts, each one with a unique design. Some had messages of support while others chronicled stories of sexual violence.

The aptly named Clothesline Project, which took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., is one of a number of events that the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center puts on each year to raise awareness for survivors of sexual assault.

“The Clothesline Project is important because it sheds light on a lot of different types of violence,” RSVP Center undergraduate assistant Kelsey Burns said. “It shows people not only that we’re on a campus that cares about this (issue), it also gives them the opportunity to learn how they can do something about it.”

Burns said this event doesn’t only focus on survivors.

“This (event) focuses a lot on intimate partner violence,” Burns said. “It focuses a lot on the perspectives of supporters as well. I think survivors’ stories are precious and important (but) it’s also important for us to hear from supporters because most of us are going to find ourselves existing in that role and that situation at some point.”

The event reaches students on many different levels. One such student is sophomore Clara Fields, who said she has seen sexual violence affect her family and friends.

“It’s a very visual representation,” Fields said. “I think there’s also something very emotional about seeing a T-shirt — something that you could wear. So if we look at these we might think of our loved one’s T-shirt, we might think about this actually being on somebody, this touched somebody, so it makes this (project) emotional for people.”

Graduate assistant Tim Maness, who is in his second year working with the RSVP Center, said one in five women and one in 12 men will experience sexual violence on a college campus.

“There are numbers that we use,” Maness said. “(But) the reason we like to stay away from statistics is that it’s too many no matter what the number is. Whether it’s one in four, one in five (or) one in six, that’s far too many people. Even if it was one in 25 that would be too many people.”

Although the Clothesline Project has been taking place on campus for many years, it is not unique to MU. According to the project’s website, it began in Massachusetts in 1990 and has now spread to 41 states and five countries. Even at MU, the event has continued to grow.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Maness said. “Every year we get more and more T-shirts. Students make T-shirts, faculty members make T-shirts — every year gets bigger and bigger. It’s a physical representation of the numbers getting larger and larger of people who support survivors of sexual assault.”

Maness said that it is difficult to remain positive as a social worker when it comes to some topics, but he said the Clothesline Project should be viewed in a positive light.

“(Sexual violence) is such an important topic because it affects everybody,” Maness said. “This is a nondiscriminatory type of violence. It really is something everybody in the community can get involved in, and it’s something everybody in the community needs to get involved in because that is how we can reduce numbers of violence.”

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