If you or someone you know has been domestically or sexually assaulted, contact the police or the Tompkins County Advocacy Center. The center provides free services for people of any race, ability, religion, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation. The 24-hour hotline is (607) 277-5000 and more information about the center can be found here. 

ITHACA, N.Y. — Colorful T-shirts strung across DeWitt Park on Tuesday waved difficult but sometimes hopeful messages written by local survivors of domestic violence.

Messages drawn on the shirts said things like “Just because it’s not happening to you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” “We are survivors,” “It gets better,” “What you said with the most conviction was generally the opposite of what was true” and “I was 10.”

The shirts were part of The Clothesline Project, a national initiative created to raise awareness about different types of victimization and abuse, particularly domestic violence. The event marked the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The display drew questions from passersby attending the Farmers’ Market, including a group of students from New Roots who got an unplanned lesson about the issue and local resources available.

For Ithaca’s Clothesline Project, survivors of domestic violence could design shirts with whatever message felt most healing, Kristi Taylor, education director at the Advocacy Center said.

“It could be messages about the impact of the abuse that they experienced, about their healing process or about the hope for the future and message of support for other survivors,” Taylor said.

T-shirts displayed for The Clothesline Project. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
T-shirts displayed for The Clothesline Project. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

The Clothesline Project got started in Massachusetts with 31 shirts in 1990 when members of Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda learned that during the same time that 58,000 soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War, nearly the same amount of women had been killed by domestic violence. The shirts are created by survivors of violence or created in honor of someone who has experienced it.

“It actually started out of the idea that domestic and sexual violence are things that are meant to be kept in secret,” Taylor said. “For many years (there was) this idea that we don’t air our dirty laundry. The creators of the project really thought of it as a way to literally fight against that and say ‘I’m not going to keep quit about this. These messages are important and we’re going to put those messages on our dirty laundry and hang them up.’”

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence impacts, millions of Americans. More than one in three women and one in four men have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC defines the issue as a serious and preventable public health problem.

Related: Ithaca Take Back the Night empowers domestic, sexual violence survivors and allies

T-shirts hang Oct. 3 in DeWitt Park as part of the Clothesline Project. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
T-shirts hang Oct. 3 in DeWitt Park as part of the Clothesline Project. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Though it’s never easy for someone to pick up the phone for the first time and ask for help, Taylor said there are resources in the community for people affected by domestic violence. The Advocacy Center offers a 24-hour hotline (607-277-5000) and free service. Taylor said it’s a non-judgmental space and people can also remain anonymous.

Taylor said there are real barriers to seeking help.

“A lot of times that question gets asked of ‘Why don’t people leave? Why if you’re in an abusive relationship, why don’t you just leave?’ And I really like to re-frame that as ‘Why is a victim trapped?’ because what abusive people are doing a lot of times is trapping them and creating barriers that make it very difficult for somebody to leave and it can be incredibly dangerous when someone flees that relationship. I’m always honored by the bravery of people being able to pick up the phone for the first time or talking about what’s going on for the first time, because it’s not simple,” Taylor said.

The Advocacy Center will be hosting events throughout the month. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for updates.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.