116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Approximately 350 decorated T-shirts will be flapping in the breeze on a clothesline strewn across the University of Iowa Pentacrest's south lawn in an effort to raise public awareness of sexual assault and violence against women in the local community from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26.
Organized by the University of Iowa Rape Victim Advocacy Program as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the campaign is a localized effort of the national “Clothesline Project.” Each T-Shirt on the clothesline will symbolize a local sexual assault survivor or woman that has lost their life because of gendered violence.
“Our goal is to raise awareness in our community and to promote healthy relationships and communication about sexual violence and its impact on victims,” Rape Victim Advocacy Program education coordinator Kristin Dawson said. “When you see all the T-shirts, it's pretty in your face.”
Decorated by survivors or the family of women killed, each shirt will be color coded. White shirts represent women killed, purple represent women attacked because of their sexual orientation and yellow represent battered women. Pink, red and orange represent battered or assaulted women.
“We began this event in 1995, and every year we hang out the old shirts alongside the new shirts,” Dawson said. “We get a lot of amazing feedback from people – most have no idea that this has been a problem for so long.”
Based out of Iowa City, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program operates as a sexual assault crisis center for women and men who need access to resources or survivor counseling in Cedar, Iowa, Johnson and Washington counties. The program also provides round-the-clock crisis support through providing advocates to answer calls.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, approximately one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Amnesty International estimates that a woman is battered every 15 seconds, with one woman being raped every six minutes. However, the exact rates of victimization are unknown.
“There's a lot of stigma around sexual assault and there are a lot of repercussions victims face,” Dawson said. “We live in a culture that blames [victims] and takes the focus off the perpetrator. Victims fear being ostracized, so they don't report what happened.”
The issues that surround obtaining figures for national data pools also plague local resources that try to document domestic violence and assault cases.
The 2009 Iowa City Police Report indicates that police responded to fewer calls for assaults and domestic violence than in years prior. However, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program crisis hot-line received 693 calls in 2010-a slight increase from 2009.
“Our statistics, Iowa City police statistics and national statistics don't usually match,” Dawson said. “For the most part, victims will never actually report what happened to them because we live in a culture that often blames them and takes the focus off the perpetrator.”
Regardless of the backlash that victims may fear experiencing, Iowa City Police Sergeant Denise Brotherton insists that women impacted by sexual assault or domestic abuse need to contact the authorities or organizations like the Rape Victim Advocacy Program to help combat the problem.
“Victims need to know that abuse is a patterned behavior–it doesn't just happen once,” Brotherton said. “We respond to every call, but we can't take back the things that happen to the victim. Developing a safety plan to leave the situation is key.”