Sexual Assault Awareness: Bright T-Shirts Reveal Dark Realities

Every April for a couple of days, a multitude of T-shirts hang from clotheslines tied to the trees in front of Langson Library. While from far away it may seem like a pretty display of colors, a closer look reveals that these shirts and their unsettling words are a harsh dose of reality. The exhibit is called the Clothesline Project and is one of the events of Sexual Assault Awareness Month presented by the Campus Assault Resources and Education office and Community Service Programs, Inc.
CARE and CSPI sponsor this display as a means to ignite discussion and action concerning the issues of sexual assault and violence. The 200 shirts are hung on a simple line of rope for all students to view as they walk through the exhibit on their way to class. All shirts were organized and hung based on their color, which is representative of the different type of violence that each shirt portrays. The acts of violence described in these shirts range from rape to attack based on sexual orientation. Yet each shirt is similar in its troubling message. Pretty poems or scenes are not found in this display. Instead, there are messages of physical harm, permanent bruises and the inability of someone to hear ‘no.’
What shocks students about this display is that every one of these shirts not only represents a victim of violence, but a victim here at UC Irvine. We assume Irvine is a safe campus and it is quite upsetting that these types of crimes still occur, especially in these numbers.
‘This project is really close to the hearts of survivors who have made the shirts,’ said Mandy Mount, Director of CARE. ‘The crime of sexual violence is one where people don’t feel that they can share openly about their experience. It is an issue rarely talked about, but each T-shirt represents someone on the campus that has been affected by sexual violence. It is a very powerful statement.’
Shirts are collected by the CARE office throughout the year, although most come in before April. In addition to victims, family and friends of victims are also able to create shirts to be displayed in the project. Although victims usually make the shirts anonymously, they are given the option to identify themselves if they choose.
The only censorship practiced in this display is that the shirts cannot display the first and last name of the perpetrator, due to liability reasons. Just the act of making a shirt for display can be enough for sexual assault victims to feel as though they are getting their voices heard.
As the number of shirts in the display gets progressively larger, Mount says that general reactions are ‘overwhelmingly positive and make such a statement.’
CARE offers resources for these victims and their family and friends to help in any way possible by providing students individual counseling and group counseling.
As well as giving support for victims, CARE offers workshops to educate the student population on these very sensitive issues. An upcoming event sponsored by CARE is Denim Day, which will be on Wednesday, April 25. More information can be found on www.chs.uci.edu/CARE.