'Voices of the survivors'

Becky Vargo • Apr 12, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Pinwheel gardens outside are bringing attention to Child Abuse Prevention Month.

But inside some public buildings there are displays focusing on the fact that April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The Clothesline Project is a national awareness campaign with displays locally at the Ottawa County Courthouse and the Loutit District Library.

Sponsored in Ottawa and Allegan counties by the Center for Women in Transition, the displays feature 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 Leslie Coghill, outreach coordinator for the Center for Women in Transition.

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

“Survive. Learn to live again. Love again,” reads one shirt hanging at the edge of the children’s section at the Loutit District Library.

“All I wanted was to be loved,” reads another hanging in the stairwell at the Ottawa County Courthouse.

A lot of the women speak about their own healing and give encouragement, Coghill said.

“The lotus is a flower that rises from the mud. The thicker the mud, the more beautiful the flower blooms,” reads another shirt at the courthouse.

“Anyone who engages with us can make a shirt,” Coghill said.

“I was this small when you touched me,” is written on a small child’s shirt. “I’m 30 now and it still hurts.”

The shirts on display, probably 200 of them around the county, were made by victims of all ages.

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

The CWIT representative emphasized the importance of prevention when going into a relationship by emphasizing respectful consensual relationships and talking to your children about ‘what is consent?’

Coghill said that 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,” she stressed. “We can do a lot from early education to help keep sexual assault from happening.”

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

LoveIsRespect.org is a dating respect website for young people, she said.

NSVRC.org is the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

RAINN.org is the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.

The local, 24-hour helpline, with calls handled by CWIT staff, is 1-800-848-5991. There is a Spanish language helpline, as well.

Coghill said anyone interested in displaying a Clothesline Project should call the Center for Women in Transition at 616-392-2829.

The Center’s Domestic Violence support groups run for eight weeks and are taught by various CWIT staff and interns. Groups are held in winter, spring, summer and fall. The topics are as follows:

Domestic Violence 101 Topics: Power and Control, Verbal and Emotional Abuse, Children and Domestic Violence, Characteristics of Abusive Personalities, What Keeps us in Abusive Relationships (Week 1), What Keeps us in Abusive Relationships (Week 2), Traits as Vulnerabilities, Dealing With Anger (The Domestic Violence 101 group is also offered in Spanish a few times each year).

Self- Empowerment Topics: Intro to Group/Self Esteem, Dealing with the Inner Critic/Negative Thinking, Rebuilding Self Esteem, Self Defeating Behaviors, Strategies for Building Self Esteem, Healthy Boundaries and Assertiveness, Co-Dependency, Wrap Up.

An informal group of survivors, Peer Lead Group, also meets at the Center.

Free dinner and childcare is provided for all attendees.

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

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