T-shirts of various colors, with messages against sexual violence, waved in the wind at UC Merced as part of Tuesday’s Clothesline Project display.
Emblazoned with messages such as “You have no idea what you have done to me,” the shirts serve as a canvas on which victims of sexual assault and their friends can express their thoughts, emotions and experiences.
The Clothesline Project started 25 years ago in Cape Cod, Mass., as a vehicle to create awareness of sexual violence. Throughout the years, the program has caught on in different parts of the country, including several college campuses.
UC Merced has been participating in the Clothesline Project for eight years.
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On Tuesday, several students walking on Scholars Lane near the College Store stopped to read the messages. Some who know victims of sexual violence decorated shirts in their honor.
The messages tend to catch people’s attention, said Kari Mansager, director of the school’s CARE office, formerly known as the Violence Prevention Program. The goal, Mansager said, is to share these stories and put a stop to the shaming of victims.
By reading the stories of their peers, students learn that there is no one “type” of sexual assault victim. Throughout the eight years, males, survivors of different ages and different backgrounds have participated in the Clothesline Project. “It helps defy stereotypes of who a survivor is,” Mansager said.
The shirts are color coded to show the form of abuse, according to the project website. For example, white shirts represent victims who died because of violence. Red and pink shirts are for those who survived rape, and blue shirts are for survivors of incest or sexual abuse.
Nella Van Dyke, a sociology professor at UC Merced, also used the display to carry out a research project to measure the impact the Clothesline Project has on bystanders. At random, students who walked by the display were asked to complete a survey that asked what they thought about the shirts’ messages. Others were asked to read statistics on sexual violence.
“My hypothesis is, personal stories will affect people more than statistics will, because of the emotional connection,” Van Dyke said.
The survey aimed to find out about people’s attitudes toward rape, and how likely they were to get involved in sexual violence education and prevention efforts after reading the shirt messages.
Van Dyke said the shirts are a way to empower victims to speak out, but it’s also important to take a look at the impact they have on those on the outside, she said. The surveys were done by a team of four graduate students and one undergraduate.
The plan, according to Van Dyke, is to publish the research findings in an academic journal. The professor said the data will be shared with the CARE office and university officials.
Van Dyke said she is also interested in learning how responses differ according to students’ majors.
Sociology students and students in the liberal arts probably get more exposure to sexual violence awareness than students in engineering or the natural sciences. If this turns out to be the case, Van Dyke said, she would like to see a push for promoting rape prevention discussion with these groups of students.
Besides the Clothesline Project, UC Merced’s CARE office has been hosting many events in April as part as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
April 29, for example, will be Denim Day. People are invited to wear jeans as a response to a 1990s sexual assault case in which the perpetrator was cleared of all charges on the grounds that the victim was wearing very tight jeans, and therefore supposedly must have helped her attacker remove them.
The Merced campus also will host a “Walk for Change” march April 30.
Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.