Abuse victims wear pain on their sleeves

MIDDLEBURY — They are basic words transposed on simple cotton T-shirts, but they are strung together in such a fashion as to form powerful messages that can’t be ignored.
“One year later, I still cringe when people touch me. I always thought I was one of the people who would never be raped, until it happened.”
“‘Home sweet home’ may not always be sunshine and lollipops.”
“End the silence, stop the violence.”
“You took so much from me, but you couldn’t take my sparkle.”
The touching messages are on more than 100 colorful T-shirts form Addison County’s version of the “Clothesline Project,” part of a national effort to raise awareness about domestic violence. All of the T-shirts — designed by community members who have been the victims of, or witnesses to, domestic violence — will be on display throughout the month of October in the lobby of the Counseling Service of Addison County’s (CSAC) office building at 109 Catamount Park. October is being recognized nationally as “Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”
Joining CSAC in the Clothesline Project are officials and clients of WomenSafe, the Addison County Parent-Child Center and the United Way of Addison County.
Mindy Hammann, a service field coordinator with CSAC’s Community Associates program, explained the idea to participate in the Clothesline Project sprang from participants in a women’s sexuality workshop she had been co-leading. Officials from WomenSafe — a local organization that gives help to domestic abuse victims — helped give participants information about how to maintain “safe relationships” and how to seek aid if they become victims.
“The women (in the group) came up with some very empowering statements,” Hammann said.
Hammann and other human services officials decided it would be a good idea to record those statements — and they saw the Clothesline Project as a great way to do it. The project dates back to 1990, when some women in Hyannis, Mass., designed and displayed 31 shirts as part of an annual “Take Back the Night” march and rally. That small effort has since mushroomed to 500 projects nationally and internationally, with an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 shirts produced by people in 41 states and five countries.
Hammann brought the idea to CSAC Human Resources Director Susan Anderson-Brown, who heartily endorsed the effort. Other agencies followed suit.
“It became an inter-agency collaborative effort,” Hammann said.
Anderson-Brown was able to see the effect the relationship the workshops, held this month, had on participants.
“The workshops were moving,” she said. “There were sorrowful tears and also tears of joy that people were able to move past an event or multiple events in their lives.”
Robert Thorn, CSAC’s executive director, also witnessed some of the workshops. He was particularly moved by the sight of a young boy who came to one of the gatherings with a caregiver. When the boy saw the T-shirts and learned the theme of the gathering, he acknowledged that he too came from an abusive home. As a result, a member of the group agreed to make a shirt on his behalf.
“He was very appreciative,” Thorn recalled.
Indeed, a lot of people are connecting with the theme, according to Hammann.
“We can safely say that almost everyone has seen the effects of violence — maybe not on a personal level, but even if it is just reading about it in the newspaper, you can still be affected by this,” Hammann said.
Addison County’s Clothesline Project will be officially unveiled at an open house at 109 Catamount Park on Friday, Oct. 1, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. In addition to the T-shirt displays, agency representatives will be on hand with information to help those affected by domestic violence.
“We would hope the exhibit would prompt people to step forward and get help,” Thorn said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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