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People Affected by Violence and Abuse Hang Their Issues on the Line

Dec. 12, 2007 — Women and men wrote, painted and drew personal messages about the impact of domestic violence and sexual abuse on themselves, family members and loved ones in a workshop Wednesday evening at the Alice S. Pfaelzer Children's Center in Christiansted.
The shirts are part of Project Clothesline, a nationwide and now international and pan-Caribbean project. Community activist V. Celeste Fahie led the private and confidential workshop.
"It is airing the dirty laundry," Fahie said. "It is a cleansing process. It is not just for victims of domestic abuse, but survivors and family members and those who love them."
The Clothesline Project started with 31 shirts hung in Hyannis, Mass., in the fall of 1990, and quickly grew to a nationwide program.
"We've been doing it on St. Croix since before I came on board more than 10 years ago," Fahie said.
Its purpose is to bear witness to the survivors and victims of violence against women, to help with the healing process for those who have lost a loved one or who have survived violence, and to educate and raise awareness of the issue.
Women — and now men — write, draw, paint, embroider or whatever they like, sending whatever message and expressing whatever feeling they wish. The colors are not mandatory. All is confidential.
There are some suggestions about using color to symbolize different experiences. White is for women who have died from violence. Yellow or beige is for those who have been battered or assaulted. Red, pink or oranges is for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Blue or green is for women survivors of incest or child sexual abuse. Purple or lavender is for women attacked for their sexual orientation. But these are just suggestions. Other colors are acceptable, too, and participants are free to make their own choices.
The messages written on the shirts are stark and disturbing: "She won't tell me what happened, but maybe someday." "I forgive you daddy for what you did." "I came to swim and you came to rape me." Some have extensive, cathartic messages expressing long held-in thoughts. Others have drawings of violent acts and women crying. They are not abstract; they are the personal expressions of those directly affected by these acts.
The shirts made Wednesday will join others on an ever-growing clothesline kept by the Women's Coalition of St. Croix. The clothesline is displayed like a banner for events in October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, for Take Back the Night marches and for the annual Women's Race, sponsored each June by the Women's Coalition, Fahie said. Call the St. Croix Women's Coalition at 773-9272 to find out how you can get involved or to find out more about the Clothesline Project.
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