Published April 26, 2019 by Tom Porter

Hung Out to Dry: Clothesline Project Takes Aim at Sexual Violence

About thirty T-shirts could be seen hanging on a clothesline in the Smith Union recently, each of them decorated with a message protesting the sexual abuse of women: “I Trusted Him Others Did Too,” proclaimed one T-shirt. “We All Perpetuate Rape Culture,” said another, in capital letters. 

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April is “sexual violence awareness month” and most of these garments were produced by Bowdoin students as part of a national initiative called The Clothesline Project.

The project was launched in Massachusetts nearly three decades ago in recognition of a chilling statistic: During the same time that 58,000 soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War, 51,000 US women were murdered by the men who claimed to love them. According to the project’s website, it was decided to use a clothesline to draw attention to this because “doing the laundry was always considered women's work, and in the days of close-knit neighborhoods women often exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging their clothes out to dry."

Lisa Peterson is associate director of gender violence prevention and education at Bowdoin, which focuses on sexual violence against people of all genders. Bowdoin has taken part in the project in previous years, she said, and it’s good to be returning to it. “A student group called Safe Space cosponsored the event and helped set up the shirt-making workshops, with help from the Craft Center.” Participating in the project, she said, aligns with efforts at other communities and campuses, and amplifies the message that sexual violence is never acceptable.

”The project not only raises awareness in a very powerful way, but also serves as a symbol of hope and healing for those impacted by violence. We are deeply appreciative of the students who shared their stories with the Bowdoin community.”