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"Clothesline" a sober reminder of violence

by Torie McCloy


(September 14) It seems like an endless line of T-shirts representing an endless line of abuse. The messages are bold, sometimes heartbreaking.

A small children's T-shirt that could have once been worn by a young boy as he played outside in the sandbox with friends bears a message of abuse as part of the West Virginia Clothesline Project.

The young child made the shirt himself to express what he felt about domestic violence.

He colored two hands, one purple and one green, and two hearts. Then, below the hands and hearts, he wrote "Hitting Hurts."

Another black T-shirt hanging nearby also has two hands painted on it, along with another plea. "Daddy stop," the child wrote. "Please let us have a better life."

Many stopped to read the stories on those T-shirts hanging in Clarksburg City Park in Nutter Fort during the United Way kickoff campaign Sunday in the Park.

Most walked in silence, some with teary eyes, as they read of child abuse, domestic violence, rape and death.

Project Coordinators Debbie Isenhart and Debra Cottrill started the project in 1994 by running ads in newspapers.

They wanted to give people a chance to express their feelings about their past, while educating others about the tragedies of domestic violence. They both work as volunteers.

"The purpose is to bring education and awareness to the fact that this goes on," Isenhart said Sunday. "People think, 'This doesn't happen in my county.'"

Isenhart said the some 200 T-shirts represent all of West Virginia's 55 counties.

She and other volunteers travel across the state with the hanging display. Sometimes, Isenhart said, people become very emotional when reading the shirts. Counselors are on hand each time the display is presented.

The shirts are all done by survivors of domestic violence, except for those done in honor of someone who died as a result of an abusive relationship.

It's people trying to heal and wanting to send a message of hope or explanation, Isenhart said.

That message seems clear. Many shirts have the words "Stop the Hurt" painted, embroidered or sewn onto them. Sometimes it is written in other words.

A young woman named Alissa described herself by using the word "abuse." Alissa Battered Unwanted Shy Emotionally Hurt.

Another survivor of violence wrote on an orange T-shirt "Rape robs my soul and leaves emptiness within."

Many of the shirts are a sign of victory as the creators send messages that whoever or whatever hurt them before can no longer do so. They have taken a stand and won't allow it.

Now, they are helping others by sharing their story.

As a yellow T-shirt reads, "If you're walking on egg shells, then it is time to leave the nest."