A traveling exhibit of survivors’ words is making it rounds in Lorain County to spread awareness of sexual assault.
Those words can deliver a powerful message, said project organizers from The Nord Center Sexual Assault Services, the county’s only sexual assault care unit. The Traveling Clothesline, a display of T-shirts designed by assault and abuse survivors, is part of a nationwide exhibit marking Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
Each of the shirts in the Lorain County display are designed by the victims, as part of their healing process, said Barb Baird, community engagement specialist at Nord. There are more than 250 in the collection, including a yellow shirt with an adult’s message to her father: “It has taken me YEARS to know it was NOT my fault. IT WAS YOURS,” reads part of the message.
A tiny shirt — a child’s size 5, pink — hangs on the line. A woman wrote that her abuse at the hands of a teenage adopted brother started when she was this size. The message recounts the abuse, ending with the last line, “I don’t want him to touch me,” repeated seven times.
“I think it makes the crime of sexual abuse or assault more real,” said Rebecca Opel, coordinator of Sexual Assault Services. “When you read the statements, they’re not all fancy or necessarily eloquent. Some are, but some are raw and genuine.”
The messages are expressions of the hurt that can linger in survivors for years. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, sexual assault occurs to a person in this country every 98 seconds; a child is assaulted every eight minutes. Typically the assault can set up a survivor with issues that could require counseling and services for a long time after the assault.
Last year, Nord provided services to 949 clients, which includes survivors and co-survivors, which can include parents of a victimized child or the adult partners of someone who suffered a sexual assault. Of those, 352 were younger than 18, Opel said.
“Each shirt carries its own personal message, and we have military, male, female, children, parents, friends,” Baird said. “It’s unbelievable what people have lived through and come out the other side.”
The project started in 1990 in Maine as a means of raising awareness of the statistics of sexual violence. Lorain County has participated since the 1990s, Opel said. It is designed as a clothesline as a nod to the past, when doing laundry was considered the role of women and secrets would be exchanged during the chore.
This year, the project has been on display at Oberlin and Lorain County Community colleges. It will be on display at The Nord Center through today and at Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst Monday through Friday next week.