Clothesline Project Raises Awareness of Sexual Abuse in Haverhill

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Haverhill YWCA is hanging clotheslines around town to raise awareness of this crime.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only six out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

Jean Walker, Domestic Violence Victim Advocate for the Haverhill Police Department, told WHAV, "the ladies that belong to support groups at the YWCA, they do those shirts... it's great that you're here because we always wonder if people see these and have questions?"

The clothesline project is a visual representation of victims telling their stories. Each color T-shirt represents a different crime: White for women who have died as the result of violence, yellow for a woman who was battered, gray for a male survivor of violence, and so on.

Survivors choose the T-shirt color that best describes their situation and they decorate it in whatever way is most meaningful to them, a poem or a picture or a quote.

One of the shirts that hangs at the police station. (WHAV News Photograph)

On a red T-shirt that hangs at the police station - red is to signify rape or sexual assault - the entire front of the shirt is covered with small, neat handwriting. It reads, in part, "Each day, egg shells cracked under my feet. Just a usual day, praying not to get beat. I didn't understand why our love felt so wrong. The abuse was so painful, it lasted so long...."

"I'll tell you, these are new ones and I thought these were beautiful. The red shirt is a poem written by a victim. The red one intrigued me because the woman who was doing it actually took it home and it took her a whole weekend to put that together," Walker said.

This shirt hangs at the police station (WHAV News Photograph)

A white shirt says: "Gaslighting: You feel as though you are going crazy and something is fundamentally wrong with you. Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse and manipulation that is difficult to recognize and even harder to leave."

Walker said, "they're beautiful, and the women put their whole heart and soul into decorating these shirts.."

The clothesline project is based on the idea that in the past, laundry was considered women's work and women would sometimes confide in each other as they hung their clothes outside to dry. It was launched in 1990 by a coalition of women's groups on Cape Cod, as a unique way of raising awareness about the statistics associated with sexual assault and sexual violence.

The T-shirts are hanging all over town, at the YMCA on Winter St., at the police station on Bailey Blvd., the public library on Summer St., at Haverhill's City Hall in the Mayor's office and at Northeast Family Institute (NFI).

Walker hopes there are women out there who see the shirts and say "I did one of those shirts many years ago and this is my new story… some of these women go on to be very successful but it's taken them years to get away from all this. It's very difficult," she said.

Victims of sexual assault are urged to call The YWCA at 978-374-6121, or call their 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual assault at 877-509-9922. Help is also available through the local police and hospital emergency rooms.