Emotions expressed

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Emotions expressed

Kayla Trail

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The annual Clothesline Project displayed T-shirts varying in all colors, all stamped with personalized messages from victims, outside of the Multicultural Center on Friday for students to see. 

 Representatives from the Women’s Center and the Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-AA) Victim Services were handing out fliers and answering students with questions as well as helping advise victims who wanted to learn more about the project. 

 The Clothesline Project is for students and community members of any age or gender to open up and speak out, while holding onto their identity and keeping it anonymous. Alondra Olvera, who works with the Women’s Center on campus, shares how personal the T-shirts can be and what the project stands for. 

 “Women and men who have been sexually assaulted or victims of child abuse, incest, domestic violence and people who have had family members or friends die of violence, can make T-shirts and write whatever they need to write,” Olvera said. “They can direct this to a person who did this to them, or whoever victimized them. There is a shirt that says ‘No means no’ and one that is essentially a letter to the father who did this to them. It talks about everything that happened and how they feel and how they felt so powerless, but now they have that power back.”

 Western Illinois University students Lisa Barbee, a pre-law philosophy major, and Kassandra Aguirre, a law enforcement major, came to see what was going on and walked around reading the T-shirts. 

 “We saw the colors and what (each T-shirt) represented.” Aguirre said. “We just started walking around and reading all of the shirts.” 

 Both girls knew people who have been victimized by domestic assault.

 “I know one person who is confused on the subject,” Barbee said. “She does not quite take it as abuse because it was from her boyfriend. When I first heard of it from an outside view looking in, I knew it was assault, but it was actually rape, but to her it wasn’t.”

 Olvera said the victim she knew was able to get out of the abusive relationship and continue on with her life, but to other victims, it isn’t easy to be that strong. 

 “I think people need to get the energy to get up and leave,” Olvera said. “Forget about it all, it is not worth the time and it is definitely not worth being abused.”  

 Jill Mann, the sexual assault medical legal advocate at Victims Services said it is common for victims to be threatened and scared to speak out about the attacker, and this is how the attacker keeps their secrets, by threatening the victims.

“Very seldom do they hold up those threats, very seldom do they follow through with those,” Mann said. “Tell someone you trust, tell a parent. If it’s a step-parent, maybe go to a grandparent if you are more comfortable that way. An aunt, an older sibling, a teacher, someone you trust. Keep telling them until they say ‘Ok.’ Let me help you with that, I know what to do.’” 

Both Barbee and Olvera agree that victims need to trust their friends, and they need to have the strength and courage to overcome this with help.

“Tell your friends,” Barbee said. “Trust them. Some people think their friend’s do not have their best interest at heart, and in this situation, I do not care if we have not talked in 10 years. If you are going to tell me this, just trust that I got your best interest at heart.”

Mann wants students to know that assault and abuse happens to both women and men, and that it is not a joking matter and should always be taken seriously. 

“Men are victims, so if you have a friend that comes to you and says, ‘You know, this happened to me,’ do not laugh, do not make jokes, it really does happen,” Mann said. “For a lot of men, it is very uncomfortable for them to acknowledge that it happened to them. They need to come see that it does happen to men, and they can see how to respond to it, by seeing how the men it has happened to feels.”

The WIRC-AA is a community agency and helps victims and friends and families of victims in McDonough, Henderson, Hancock and Warren County. 

“Our hotline is 24-hours a day, 7 days a week,” Mann said. “They can give us a call if they have questions, if they are a victim, or if their friend is a victim, and (if) they want to know how to talk to their friend. It is completely anonymous.”

All of the T-shirts displayed, including all of the ones in totes underneath the tables at the display, are locally made by the victims that the WIRC-AA Victims Services have worked with. 

“If someone wants to make a T-shirt, they can get ahold of our office,” Mann said. “They have to be a victim, unless you are a family member of someone who has died due to assault or abuse, you can make a T-shirt in honor of them.”

The WIRC-AA Victims Services has a “Start by Believing” campaign where a person signs a pledge to agree to support victims of abuse. 

“Children will tell someone up to eight times before they are believed,” Mann said. “The first step is to believe and that is also going to be the first step to stamping out the violence against men and women.”

The Victim Services 24-hour crisis line is: (309) 837-5555.