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The Clothesline Project

Every year James Madison University hosts “The Clothesline Project” somewhere on campus. The event is put on to bring attention to how prevalent sexual assault is on college campuses as well as at home. I’ve been to the event a few times during my college career, but every year it hits home a little harder.

To give you a visual, a large room filled with t-shirts telling stories of sexual assault is open to the public for a few days. The shirts are hung on lines using clothespins—an enormous amount of clothespins. There were rows and rows of shirts—each with probably four levels stretching from the floor to the ceiling. As I walk through each row, I was reminded of each time a sexual assault occurred because a loud “GONG” noise went off. That painful reminder was deafening among the eerie silence of everyone in the room. Not a single word was spoken throughout my time at the event—and rightfully so…nobody knew what to say.

Many of the shirts were dedicated to ex boyfriends, strangers, fathers, and uncles. Too many were made out to trusted friends. One shirt read, “This is the shirt I was raped in.” It was then that I had to take a step back and breathe. It’s a hard thing to take in—theses instances of assault—because each one holds such weight.

According to RAINN’s website,

  • 1 in 6 women are survivors of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
  • Only 20% of female college student s report their assault
  • 82% of juvenile victims are female
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence

The biggest takeaway from this event is: what can be done about sexual assault? What can we do in our everyday lives that can stop this epidemic?

For one, we need to know what assault looks like. Often times it looks like someone who is incapacitated, not having a way home or friends looking out for them. As a college student, I’ve seen this so many times. One time, I asked a girl (who was basically being dragged up the street by a guy) if she needed help. He turned to me and said sarcastically, “Yeah, I’m going to go home and rape her.” I was so shocked that he would say something like this as a joke. Thankfully, her girlfriends showed up and took her home before the guy had a chance.

One part of consent is the fact that it has to be sober. Women need to look out for each other, and we need to teach boys and men what consent really means.

Asking if someone is okay is okay. Don’t be afraid to step up and help someone when they need it. And to all those who share their story at venues like The Clothesline Project and elsewhere, thank you.

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