Domestic violence is a subject that we are familiar with in the UK of course, thanks to government-supported campaigns. But the Clothesline Project, which aims to highlight the issue in an especially vivid way, has really taken off across America from small beginnings on the Cape.
Personally I always felt that my own father's combat experience in World War Two had exacerbated his mental problems. That theme of the destructive effects on family life in a post-war society was something that I explored in my book Oundle's War (1995), where the veterans whom I interviewed confessed to having nightmares and feelings of guilt that they endured for many years after the conflict.
No surprise then, that as co-founder of the Clothesline Project, Brewster resident Elenita Muniz points out in the article below, a notable spike in the number of battered, abused and murdered wives in the US coincided with the Vietnam war period. And every likelihood that we will see a similar rise worldwide as an effect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.]
‘Break the Silence – End the Violence’
Clothesline Project marks 20th year with concert
“I realized the pain my friends had gone through and I never knew anything about it. … You weren’t allowed to talk about it (violence) then,” she recalled.
“The Clothesline Project saved my life,” she says. “It brought to the forefront things I didn’t know I had locked in there.”
Chichetto has been using that painful energy to reach out to other survivors of violence as the director of education and outreach for the Clothesline Project Inc., which is marking its 20th anniversary this year.
Operating under the motto “Break the Silence – End the Violence,” the mission of the project is to increase the awareness of the impact of violence against women, a problem that is staggering.
According to figures from the National Victims Center, the U.S. Justice Department, and the National Battered Women’s Clearinghouse, every day in the United States a woman is battered every nine to 12 seconds, more than one woman is raped, and four to six women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
“It’s hard to know if the violence is getting worse or if more women are reporting it,” says Elenita Muniz of Brewster, one of the founders of the Clothesline Project Inc.
The grassroots project was started in 1990 by a coalition of about a dozen women, many of whom were survivors of violence themselves.
“We wanted to raise awareness on a hidden problem,” Muniz says. “It does happen here and it happens a lot.”
Local statistics are hard to come by. Yet the Cape is known to have the highest level of domestic violence in the state for an area of its size and population, Chichetto says, possibly because of the stresses of its seasonal economy and the easy access to drugs and alcohol.
Muniz says a catalyst for the women’s coalition was the Vietnam War. She recalls being moved by the traveling half-size model of the Wall, which came to the Hyannis Village Green. The monument honors the 58,000 soldiers killed during the conflict. She was struck by the fact that during that same period 51,000 women were murdered, primarily by the men who supposedly loved them. “Where is our wall?” she remembers thinking.
Inspired by the AIDS quilt, another founder, visual artist Rachel Carey-Harper, came up with the idea of letting women express their emotions by designing shirts and hanging them on a clothesline for others to see.
Using a clothesline as a healing and educational tool “seemed simple and perfect,” Muniz says. Traditionally, women were always the ones to do the wash and used to talk over the clothesline. Symbolically, the clothesline represents an airing of society’s “dirty laundry.”
Shirt-making is not only a powerful therapeutic tool that helps survivors of assault, incest and rape heal from their pain, Chichetto says, but is also a way for observers to understand their pain.
“It allows women to know they aren’t alone and for people to understand the devastating impact of this type of violence and the enormity of it,” she says.
The Clothesline Project made its debut on the Hyannis Village Green in October 1990 during the annual “Take Back the Night” march and rally. Women were invited to create their own shirts. By the end of the day 31 shirts were completed for the next display. But the momentum didn’t stop there. The tiny grassroots project has spawned an international movement. Twenty years and tens of thousands of shirts later, there are an estimated 500 Clothesline Projects in 41 states and five countries with two to three new projects starting up every week.
“It’s been incredibly successful” thanks largely to word of mouth, says Chichetto.
“We had no idea it would spread,” says Muniz, who brought a sample project of 30 shirts to Palestine in March of 2009. More than 6,000 shirts were gathered for a national display on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in 1995.
Both women have seen progress and changes in attitudes regarding violence against women since the Clothesline Project began.
“There is a lot more awareness and support,” Muniz says.
Laws have been passed to help keep women safe, including the battered women’s defense. Before, restraining orders were hard to get, Chichetto says. Now law enforcement officers are trained to intervene in domestic violence cases.
Yet, Chichetto believes the best hope for stopping violence against women is getting the message out to the younger generation. Since 1995 she’s been conducting interactive workshops on teen dating violence in local middle schools and high schools. Thanks to education in the schools, she sees a change in attitudes.
“The younger the person is who gets this information the better the chance of changing society,” she says.
By Johanna Crosby
Articles reprinted courtesy of the Cape Codder
William Kellibrew headlines concert
Singer and anti-violence educator/activist William Kellibrew will be the special guest at the 11th anniversary Clothesline benefit concert on March 20.
Kellibrew knows about domestic violence personally. At the age of 10 he witnessed the brutal shooting of his mother and 12-year-old brother at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend. When the batterer aimed his gun at Kellibrew, the frightened boy prayed and begged for his life. His mother’s batterer told him to call the police. When they arrived at the house they found the bodies of his brother, mother and their killer. But Kellibrew was spared.
Instead of falling into the cycle of violence, Kellibrew is dedicated to crusading against domestic violence through the William Kellibrew Foundation.
Sharing the bill will be nationally touring singer/songwriter Greg Greenway who was instrumental in starting the first Clothesline concert 11 years ago. Joining him will be jazz and recording artist Bruce Abbott and percussionist Lisa Brown and the Nauset World Music Ensemble.
The fund-raiser supports the Clothesline Project’s efforts to raise awareness of violence against women and children locally and nationally.
Clothesline concert info
If you go…
What: Clothesline Concert
When: 7:30 p.m. March 20, 2010
Where: Nauset Regional High School, 100 Cable Road, North Eastham
Tickets: $15, adults; $10 seniors and students, available at the door or at Hot Chocolate Sparrow, Orleans