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Hope hangs on courthouse Clothesline

Becky Vargo • Apr 18, 2019 at 11:00 AM

A stairwell of testimony and hope is on display at the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Sponsored by the Center for Women in Transition, the display features decorated shirts that serve as a visual testimony of the courage and experience of survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

“It’s really about the voices of the survivors,” said Lesley Coghill, the prevention and systems change manager for the CWIT.

The shirts on display, including more than 100 of them at the courthouse, were made by victims of all ages. Coghill said there are hundreds more still in boxes.

“We try to vary the shirts each year with the messages,” she said of the Clothesline Project.

During counseling sessions or support group meetings, victims are encouraged to write down their stories.

“Some are from teens. Some are from adults reflecting on an experience from childhood,” Coghill said.

The CWIT representative said prevention is important when going into a relationship by emphasizing respectful consensual relationships and talking to your children about “what is consent?” She said children need to know what consent looks like so they grow up respecting the limits and boundaries of their partners and honoring that. 

“Early education is really important,” Coghill stressed. “We can do a lot from early education to help keep sexual assault from happening.”

Ottawa County Circuit Court Administrator Kevin Bowling said it’s important to host the project.

“Every year the clothesline has been displayed in the Ottawa County Courthouse, the individual messages on each t-shirt have generated numerous conversations among families, court users, court employees, attorneys and others regarding the prevalence of domestic and/or sexual violence,” Bowling said. “These conversations often lead to important expressions of support for victims of crime and opportunities to share information about community resources like CWIT where direct services are available for victims and their families. Every step we take to eliminate domestic and sexual violence is an important one.”

Coghill said there are a lot of resources out there for information.

LoveIsRespect.org is a dating respect website for young people, she said, while NSVRC.org is the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RAINN.org is the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

The local 24-hour helpline, with calls handled by CWIT staff, is 800-848-5991. There is a Spanish language helpline, as well.

Support groups include:

— Spring support groups: Domestic Violence Education, Self-Empowerment and Peer-Led groups, on Thursday evenings until May 30. Free dinner begins at 5 p.m., with support groups running from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Free child care is available.

— Divorce Support Group meets Tuesdays, July 2 to Aug. 20, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. This group is designed for those contemplating, experiencing or have experienced divorce. This is a closed group after the first of the seven sessions. No child care provided.

For more information on the support groups, call the Center for Women in Transition at 616-392-2829.

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