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The Clothesline Project: Raising Awareness One T-Shirt at a Time

Sometimes a story doesn’t need to be bound up in a book to be important.

At least that’s what Braxton Dutson thinks. A senior in social work and creator of the Clothesline Project student group at the U, Dutson knows how important it is for an individual to share his or her story in any context.

Starting in 1990 in Cape Cod, Mass., the Clothesline Project has served as an outlet for survivors of abuse to share their stories through the use of t-shirts hanging on a clothesline. The shirts come in many different colors, each of which represents a different form of abuse, including sexual, physical, mental, and emotional. Participants can candidly and anonymously write their stories or the stories of those close to them on t-shirts, which are hung up in public to raise awareness within the community.

Dutson first became familiar with the project when he was involved with it at Utah Valley University. After transferring to the U, he was shocked to discover that the project was non-existent on campus. Dutson decided to create the accompanying student group, which held their first event in April 2013. The clothesline runs the length of the Union ballroom, a high traffic area for students to both view and contribute to the project.

“I figured that everyone needs to see it and we need survivors to have the ability to tell their story,” Dutson said.

As a student in social work and as someone who has seen firsthand how sexual abuse affects family and friends, Dutson has been heavily involved in similar projects and truly understands the importance that telling one’s story plays in the healing process of a survivor of assault.

“When someone becomes a victim of a crime, especially sexual assault, their power has been taken away from them,” Dutson said. “[The victims] did not have power to consent to sexual activity and a lot of times the police take on the case…and start taking away [the victims’] power to make decisions.”

The project gives power back to survivors by giving them a voice, “no matter where they are in their healing process,” Dutson said.

While the the project has shown itself to be beneficial to survivors, passers-by are also affected by it, both positively and negatively.

“I’ve had comment boxes out and there have been some that are very supportive,” Dutson said. There have also been less supportive comments, saying ‘Why would I want to read this and get depressed?’ “It’s kind of disappointing, but everyone is in their own stage of understanding it,” Dutson said.

However, Dutson believes the important thing is to put a real story to the number: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in Utah have been sexually assaulted by the age of 18.

Despite the few negative comments, Dutson is passionate about the program and hopes that it will continue on after he graduates.

“It never ceases to amaze me that there’s always a shirt that catches my eye,” Dutson said. “It either brings me to tears or makes me smile. I love the fact that people can start healing from their abuse from this shirt and that others are actually getting to see that this is a real problem in the community.”

* * *

The project is on display from April 15-16, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and in October, for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If this is a cause that you’re passionate about, you can email Braxton at 55brax55@gmail.com to get involved with the Clothesline Project student group. There are also other student organizations on and off campus that aim to provide awareness of sexual assault, as well as provide survivors of abuse with a safe space to share their stories. If you’re interested in getting involved, RevolUtion, the ASUU student advocacy board, the Rape Recovery Center, and the Student Wellness Center are great places to start.

Photo: Courtesy of Desert News
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