Clothesline Project showcases heartbreaking stories of victims of sexual abuse, other crimes

By Joe Vargas

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, so I was invited by Community Service Programs (CSP) to view the Orange County Clothesline Project Display at Fullerton College last week.

The Clothesline Project is a display of more than 1,000 multicolored T-shirts hanging on clotheslines. Each shirt is a creation of a crime victim.

It’s impressive to see hundreds of colored shirts drifting in the breeze. It’s also disheartening when you understand each shirt symbolizes someone who has gone through the emotional trauma of victimization.

For the last 16 years, the CSP Clothesline Project has given a voice to hundreds of men and women in Orange County who have been affected by violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

As I walked around and read the stories expressed on each of the shirts, I couldn’t help but be moved by the range of emotions.

The stories are heartbreaking.

I’m a survivor. I was only 8 when it happened. For 4 years I lived in fear, not having a voice. You blamed me all my life. 15 years later I forgave you. You no longer control my life. I’m in control now.

You are the reason I felt dirty! You made me feel like that is all I’m good for. You took my innocence. You are the reason I never could understand what love was! I was child! Your niece! Now you’re rotting in hell.

Dear Joseph, I didn’t ask you to come into the room I was sleeping in. I told you no over and over again. I kicked you and punched you while you laughed. Nothing was funny. I couldn’t fight anymore. So I gave up. I stared at the ceiling counting the dots until you were done. You ruined my senior year of high school. You made me question my self worth and made me feel unworthy to be loved. I was never OK. I said NO! I AM BETTER THAN YOUR CRAPPY SELF!….

Photo by Joe Vargas

The stories evoked a roller coaster of emotions. Some of the shirts expressed anger and heartache. The use of profanity and feelings of anger were not uncommon.

Others wrote messages of resiliency and restoration.

As I read the stories, I couldn’t help but recognize my own emotional roller coaster. More than once I thought to myself, “I’m sorry no one was there for you.”

Some of the stories made me feel like I wanted to kick someone’s butt. Call it righteous indignation.

Now imagine these emotions a thousand times over and over again.

Kait McKay Photography

As I walked around the Fullerton College campus quad, hundreds of students studied the messages on the shirts. The noise level was respectfully subdued. There was a sense of reverence as they read each of the stories.

They are stories all of us should know. They are painful stories we need to experience with each of these victims. It’s one way the victims of these heinous acts can be empowered to speak out against the violence.

If you get a chance, take the time to visit one of the Clothesline Project displays. The project frequently displays on campuses and other venues in Orange County.

The stories and the victims that wrote them deserve to have their stories heard.

Community Service Programs’ Sexual Assault Victim & Prevention Resources are available to the community. To learn more visit www.cspinc.org. For the 24-hour crisis hotline, call (714) 957-2737.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com

Joe Vargas photo