- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A shirt hanging on the wall of the Evansville YWCA reminds visitors: “Your safety, love and happiness matter.” Another cautions: “Build your home with love, don’t break your home with hate.”

Domestic violence affects more than 10 million people a year in the U.S., but almost half of those incidents go unreported. Organizations such as the Evansville YWCA and Albion Fellows Bacon Center are hosting programs throughout October, domestic violence awareness month, to shed some stigma around reporting domestic abuse.

The clothes hanging in the YWCA lobby are part of the annual Clothesline Project, which spotlights domestic violence with a gallery of shirts designed by survivors to represent their personal experience. Many carry messages of hope for the next person who leaves an abuser.

“People just create the most beautiful piece of art to express their journey,” said Erika Taylor, CEO of YWCA Evansville.

Some shirts’ messages are simple, with phrases like “love should not hurt” painted inside hearts. Others carry a reminder to the person who painted them: “I have a voice, I am worthy … I deserve love.”

More than one in three women and one in four men in the U.S. say they were physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their life, according to a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey results, published in 2010, also showed almost one in 10 women in the U.S. have been raped by an intimate partner.

While domestic violence is common, victims do not always report it. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates only 56.1 percent of domestic violence incidents in 2014 were reported to police. That rate improves — though not by much — when it’s restricted to intimate partner violence, committed by current or ex-spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends.

Abuse victims might not report violence because they fear retaliation from their abuser or they don’t have enough money to leave, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Janice Burkstead is one of the women who contributed a t-shirt to the Clothesline Project as part of an art therapy program at the YWCA. She can’t remember her design but said the project helped her self-esteem after 15 years of abuse. Despite an insecure financial situation her abuser held over her head, she left him when her young daughter saw the abuse and started acting out.

“It was hard to break away. It was really stressful to leave my home for what was safe for me and my daughter,” she said. “It’s like he had this control over me, to where I couldn’t break free. . I had to do something.”

Taylor believes another reason abuse goes unreported is that victims are afraid people won’t believe them — or, worse, will blame them.

“There’s a stigma attached to a victim,” she said. “I think that oftentimes people are quick to judge the victim and jump to the defense of an abuser, especially if that person has a status in the community.”

The push for domestic violence awareness has already sparked at least one person to take action.

Kiara Perkins, a senior at the University of Southern Indiana, is working to start a support and advocacy group for students who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual assault or other violence.

She’s wanted to start a club like this for a while, she said, but details started falling into place last week when she attended Flowers on the Lake, a memorial ceremony hosted by Albion and USI to honor victims of domestic abuse.

“I got fed up of feeling very silenced,” Perkins said. “I just want to make people feel like they can come forward. … I want this to be something we can talk about.”

Though she already has enough people signed up to start the club, the group is still in the planning stages. In Perkins’ vision, the club would be a safe place for people to meet and share their experiences, and members could work to educate others about domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I really just want to involve people in my age group,” she said. “I would love for this to be here when I’ve left USI.”

While domestic violence is openly discussed now more than it was even a few years ago — Taylor pointed to a domestic abuse victim’s moving essay, titled “Domestic Violence Is Not Entertainment,” as well as high-profile stories like Johnny Depp’s alleged abuse of then-wife Amber Heard — Taylor said many people still need to be more open-minded when listening to victims.

“It shouldn’t be that far-fetched for people to see that anybody can be an abuser,” she said.

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Source: Evansville Courier and Press, https://bit.ly/2ekiZon

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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