The shirts were once again hung at Rose Harbour in downtown Campbell River this week in recognition of the struggles of many who live there – and all women anywhere who have suffered abuse or violence.
Each year during Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, the Clothesline Project sees women decorate the shirts to tell their stories and bring awareness to the cause, according to Campbell River and North Island Transition Society (CRNITS) outreach coordinator Lori Hirst.
“It’s a way of raising awareness of the issue that also allows women to tell their story about how violence – or any type of abuse – has effected them in their lives,” Hirst says. “And that can be either directly or indirectly. Maybe it’s their own experience of being in an abusive relationship and how they got out of it and healed from it or maybe somebody they know was in an abusive relationship and they want to tell that story.”
Blue and red T-shirts represent sexual abuse, yellow or beige T-shirts represent abuse by a partner, a white T-shirt represents murder, a purple T-shirt represents assault because of sexual orientation and a green T-shirt represents children who have been affected by violence.
“It brings up a lot of emotions for people and starts the conversation about violence against women,” Hirst says. “It makes people ask themselves what they can do to prevent violence and what can they do to help?”
And that’s a discussion – and self-reflection – that needs to be had.
“I think a lot of people still feel that violence against women is a private issue and they don’t want to get involved or they don’t want to know about it,” she says. “But what people need to know is that even if you’re not being directly affected by abuse, the community suffers because of it.”
And each one of us – as well as the collective community – can do something about it.
“People need to know that there’s a lot of violence and a lot of abuse happening in relationships in Campbell River and, as a community, we can do something about that together, whether that’s a simple thing like if you know about an abusive relationship in your own circle of friends, not turning a blind eye to it. Or if you hear a fight going on at your neighbours’, don’t ignore it. Call the police and make sure victims are getting the help that they need.”
CRNITS, Hirst says, has been doing the Clothesline Project for “at least 15 years now.” While much has changed over that time, too much remains the same.
“What’s good is that the Clothesline Project itself is growing,” Hirst says. “It used to be a really small display with just a few shirts hanging up and now we’re doing the whole Rose Harbour building and all of Spirit Square and more people are coming to check it out and it’s bringing more awareness to the subject of abuse.
“There are also a lot more resources available for victims these days,” she continues. “We’ve got Rose Harbour now, for example, where women and children who are fleeing abuse can get affordable housing, which is a huge thing. Without safe, affordable housing available, a lot of women have to stay in these abusive relationships, because they don’t have anywhere else they can live.”
While the reality is that there are still a lot of relationships that are violent and abusive, Hirst says, at least we’re talking about it now.
“The more we all talk about it, the better it will get,” she says. “If you’re in an abusive relationship, there’s a lot of secrecy and shame. The more we bring awareness about it, the better, so that people know that they can share their story with someone, get help and start to heal.”