- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) - Brightly colored swaths of fabric swayed in stark contrast to a somber sky more suited for winter than spring.

But the clotheslines full of multi-hued T-shirts strung between the trees of Bowling Green State University’s Union Oval on Monday were more of a statement than a decoration.

The Clothesline Project, an installation by the Cocoon Shelter, is meant to raise awareness of violence against women and other marginalized groups in the area.

Each T-shirt is designed by a survivor or one of their loved ones to represent the individual’s specific experience, bearing witness to violence.

“I want students to be aware that this is a real thing that happens on college campuses,” said Kaitlin Kanable, who helped staff the shelter’s informational table in the oval.

Kanable, a BGSU student, handed out pamphlets and awareness ribbons to passers-by with classmate Alyssa Davidson as part of their management class work.

Though caught unprepared by the biting wind, both students felt the cause was worth standing in the cold.

“I don’t think people realize it happens until it happens to them or someone they know,” Davidson said. “People on campus may know the people who made these shirts but didn’t want to tell anyone.”

The event was part of the It’s On Us Spring Week of Action. It’s On Us is a campus initiative to stop sexual assault.

Each shirt’s color denotes a type of violence suffered by the designer, with messages, patterns and images painted on one or both sides.

For example, shades of red, pink and orange mean a survivor of sexual assault, harassment or stalking designed the shirt, while shades of blue and green represent the designer is an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Yellow and beige shirts signify a survivor of domestic violence and purple shirts signify LGBT survivors of violence.

White shirts and their messages were created by loved ones of those who have been killed by perpetrators of such violence.

Some of the white shirts were in small sizes, shining a light on child victims.

“It can happen to anyone … Men, women, people of color,” said Grant Toepfer-Gaver, graduate student. “Holding these kind of events lets people know there are resources out there for them and shows people are taking steps to build a more proactive community.”

According to the web site for the SAAFE Center, which joined the shelter as the Sexual Violence Program in October, there are over 750 shirts in the collection, which began 1995.

The shelter hosts shirt-making sessions throughout the year as a way for survivors and their loved ones to heal and to educate the community about sexual and domestic violence.

Such events highlight issues often forgotten in the area, Davidson said.

“The Cocoon Shelter is the only domestic violence shelter in Wood County, so this really shows the need for more attention and promotion to get some action,” Davidson said.

Toepfer-Gaver agrees.

As a member of the It’s On Us Campaign and the husband of a Cocoon Shelter advocate, the cause is close to heart, he said.

“The project gives a voice to people who have not been able to voice their experiences. It’s a great way to show that sexual assault and domestic violence is a real and tangible thing even in Bowling Green,” Toepfer-Gaver said. “(Some may think) in Bowling Green, this doesn’t happen here, but it does. Sexual assault, rape and violence happens on every college campus.”


Information from: The Sentinel-Tribune, https://www.sent-trib.com

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