By Katie Porter
Color-coded shirts hung between the trees. The bright statement, called the Clothesline Project, is a stark contrast to what it represents.
Sponsored by Community Service Programs, Inc., the t-shirts bear messages from victims of violence in Orange County and are color-coded for different crimes, ranging from domestic violence and sexual assault to child abuse and human trafficking.
They reveal different stages of recovery, with expressions varying from words of anger and sadness to inspiring and forgiving.
Some shirts ask questions of their abusers, “Why did you do this to me? I trusted you.” “This is what you call love?”
Some are more profane, “I just want to cut his balls off and make him eat them so he can’t do this to anyone else again.”
“It shows they went through something terrible. But it also shows they sought help,” Ashley Hanf, a student who read the messages with teary eyes, thinking they remind her of her own family. “I want to take my friends and family members who’ve been through these things to see this.”
Many students who walked by the display came back later with friends, said Christina Duong, health educator at the Health and Wellness Center. She was also surprised by how many male students took the time to read the stories on the shirts.
“I think that it’s such a sensitive topic that putting it out there in a visual way really brings a powerful response,” Duong said.
A few students made their own shirts, writing on them with pen and glitter and hanging them up alongside the others, many covered in drawings of rainclouds and crying eyes.
“Four people made them today. For many survivors it’s a very therapeutic and artistic way. And it’s nice for other people to see and read and maybe not feel so alone,” said Michelle Marr, prevention educator specialist with CSP Inc.
The group serves as Orange County’s sole rape crisis center, and also works to prevent other crimes against women and children. It provides resources such as crisis counseling, support groups and self defense classes. If a victim wants to press charges, CSP, Inc. is with them from the first steps of the legal process, assigning them a victim’s advocate.
These types of crimes are sometimes taboo to talk about, and are easy to ignore in affluent areas like Orange County, where wealth and appearances tend to mask many domestic issues, Marr said.
In the county there are about 38,000 cases of child abuse and 18,000 cases of domestic violence reported every year, according to Laura’s House, a domestic violence service group based in South County.
“There’s a stereotype that when you think of OC, you think of mansions, beaches, paradise. Crime happens everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you live,” Marr said.