RVAP's 'Clothesline Project' shares assault victims' stories at UI


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Under a clear blue sky on the green Pentacrest lawn, roughly 300 victims spoke out, sharing their stories of abuse.

The stories took on many different forms: a spew of profanities, individuals struggling with self-blame, or those finding acceptance.

But these women, men, and children were not standing on the lawn Thursday morning — they were represented by T-shirts they had decorated.

“One of these things this project does is it shows our statistics about violence in a visual way,” said Karla Miller, the executive director for the Rape Victim Advocacy Program. “It makes it seem more real to people. Each victim is a survivor of violence and designed their shirt or someone made it on their behalf.”

Multicolored shirts fluttered in the wind, carrying such phrases as “You stole my spirit,” “I was 4 years old,” and “Not my fault.”

In Iowa, according to the 2012 domestic-violence census in late March, a reported 737 assault victims were served in one day across the state.

In 1995, the national “Clothesline Project” came to Iowa City, sponsored by RVAP. Miller has been involved nationally in the project since 1977, and she said one thing continues to surprise her with the event each year.

“You put [the clothesline] up, and I thought I had read all of them by now,” Miller said. “But I stopped at the power of their message. You know, you look at these shirts, and it’s just people’s heart and souls put into them.”

University of Iowa junior Molly Schuneman stopped to look over the T-shirts as she passed by on the Pentacrest and was shocked at what she saw.

“I’m just speechless,” she said, as a tear trickled down her face. “I just can’t imagine the pain the women have gone through. I’m very lucky to live with such loving parents and [have] a really lucky life.”

Schuneman said although being a part of Alpha Chi Omega — whose philanthropy is centered on domestic violence — has made her more aware of the issue, she said many other college students do not understand the gravity of the effect of abuse.

“I think most of us come from privileged families,” she said. “And I’m not saying they don’t have their own issues, but coming to the university, people can get so wrapped up in their own world. Domestic violence is one of the least-talked about evils.”

There are 28 organizations in Iowa aimed to provide assistance to those who have experienced domestic violence.

RVAP education coordinator Susan Junis, who agrees with Schuneman, said many people do not think abuse is an issue because of some misleading statistics.

According to the 2012 Clery Report, an annual report issued by the UI police, the UI saw 10 cases of forcible sex offenses on campus in 2011, an increase from six in 2010 and nine in 2009. Junis says this is not indicative of the actual crimes that occur.

In 2012, 41 phone calls were made to RVAP is regards to domestic violence alone. Junis said it is important for people to realize how common assault truly is to support victims of the crimes.

“If you look at the numbers [in the Clery report], people will say ‘Oh, this is really rare,’ ” Junis said. “That isn’t true — 16-19 year olds are the most common demographic to experience assault, which is college freshmen and sophomores. One in four women will be assaulted just in their college years. It’s very common and important to bear witness to that and to bear representation to that.”

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