UC Irvine’s Campus Assault Resources and Education hosted its annual series of sexual awareness events featuring the Clotheslines Project, Denim Day and Take Back the Night, from Monday, April 21 to Wednesday, April 23. The events served as a three-prong approach to educate students of the dangers of sexual violence.
Kicking off the week’s festivities, the Clothesline Project exhibited a variety of T-shirts with messages written on them that broke the silence of someone who had been sexually abused. T-shirts were made by two groups of people—those who knew someone who had been violently abused and those who had been violently abused themselves.
Statements written on T-shirts included, “My friendship does not = my consent” and “I kept saying no, but he did it anyways…”
Lauren Smith, a fourth-year sociology major who volunteered for the event, explained how making a T-shirt could help an individual cope with the after-effects of sexual abuse.
“Anyone can come in and make a shirt. … For a lot of people it’s a therapeutic process,” Smith said.
Aside from the words on the clothing, different colors of the shirts had different meanings. For instance, a white shirt represented someone who had died from violence, a yellow or beige shirt represented someone who had been battered or assaulted and a purple or lavender shirt represented someone who had been attacked because of their sexual orientation.
Chammarra Johnson, a fourth-year English and sociology double-major who made her own T-shirt, described how the act of making her T-shirt functioned as a way to move past a violent experience. “It was kind of a relief. … It’s that next step in being able to tell about your story or somebody else’s story.”
Still, while expressing one’s frustration with violence can be a therapeutic process, many feel that understanding acts of violence – in particular sexual violence – is ongoing practice.
Stephen Marley, a second-year social science major, expressed the need to incorporate awareness into one’s life year-round. “Participation is only part of it. You need to take it and make it part of your everyday life.”
Mandy Mount, the director of CARE, explained how the Clothesline Project continues to expand each year, and how the event ties in with Denim Day.”Each year we have about 15 new shirts on the clothesline … the clothesline compliments Denim Day because the clothesline is also an awareness-building event. It’s a visual representation of the experience of sexual violence,” Mount said.
Denim Day first began in 1999 in response to a 1998 Italian court case involving the rape of a 17-year-old girl by a man in his mid-40s. The Italian high court initially found the man guilty but overturned the decision after reasoning that the girl must have removed her jeans in cooperation with the sexual act. This decision went onto attract international criticism.
As the day turned into night, individuals sat down in their jeans by the UCI flagpoles to observe and participate in a number of events as part of Take Back the Night.
While a variety of displays were held to entertain the audience ranging from performances by musicians James Clarke and Ricky Hopkins to a spoken-word performance by UCI student organization Uncultivated Rabbits, a number of speakers also addressed the issue of sexual violence.
Following an introduction by Mount, Robert Buelow, the Violence Prevention coordinator of CARE, addressed the individuals in attendance and the various reasons why they might have come to Take Back the Night.
“Some people are probably here to show their support for survivors, some people are here to educate themselves about the issues and some people are here because they were the victims of sexual violence themselves,” Buelow said.
Although Buelow went into detail about how sexual violence can be damaging to women, he also addressed how the perception of sexual violence has affected him as a man. Buelow recounted times when he would pass by women late at night and notice that they often look away from him or increase their pace because they are afraid of him in the context of his gender.
“She’s not just afraid of me, she’s not just afraid of the night, she’s afraid of men. … So guys, if that makes you angry, good. It makes me angry,” Buelow said.
The keynote speaker of the night was Dawn Foor of Community Service Programs, Inc., and a rape survivor. In discussing the benefits of Take Back the Night, Foor stressed how the event brings individuals together whether they had experienced sexual violence or wanted to learn more about sexual violence.
“We come together this evening not as hopeless individuals, but as the very embodiment of a collective union. We are not alone,” Foor said.
Following the speeches, a march was held to show unity in opposing sexual violence. Marchers and bystanders were then invited back to the UCI flagpoles where a number of information booths were set up.
Christina Ampudia, a third-year political science major who volunteered at one of the information booths on behalf of the Delta Gamma sorority, explained how she found Take Back the Night inviting to both men and women.
“I am most touched by the fact that there’s an increasing outreach of awareness to men,” Ampudia said. “I like how it’s joint … that we can come together.”
Still, others such as Ami Kurzweil, a second-year biological science and international studies double-major, expressed greater interest in how rape is particularly harmful to women.
“I think this event is amazing because it creates awareness … it informs people about the negative effects and [how] hurtful [sexual violence] can be to a woman,” Kurzweil said.
While some had heard of the event either through flyers, e-mail or from a friend, other bystanders were just surprised an event was occurring late Wednesday night at UCI, such as Tom Hitchner, a fifth-year graduate student in English.
“Particularly, the campus is empty at night, it’s really interesting to see all these lights on and all the events going on,” Hitchner said.
The tables set up for the event covered a variety of topics such as how rape is portrayed in the media, how to safely define sexual consent and what individuals can do if they have been sexually assaulted.
As the event came to a close, a speak-out was held in which CARE’s peer educators provided assistance for those who wanted to speak more about their experiences and obtain further information.
In addressing the week’s happenings, Mount expressed that more than anything, these events should encourage students to learn more about sexual violence.
“Its important to challenge what you think you know … that you learn about sexual violence because it is so prevalent. If each one of us learns a little bit more … we can create an entire planet that is supportive of survivors and does not tolerate sexual violence anymore,” Mount said.