By Brian Morris
to an audio version of this
The issue of violence against women has stalked Cape Cod for many years. The Cape
and Islands have
the highest per-capita rate of domestic violence in Massachusetts, an alarming trend
often fueled by
substance abuse and the pressures of surviving in a volatile seasonal economy. While
help is available,
in most cases it's only temporary, and battered women find that permanently breaking
free of abusive
relationships is much harder than just walking away. Sixteen years ago, The Clothesline Project
founded on Cape Cod as a compelling way for abused women to tell their stories, and
begin the healing
process. Since then, some 60,000 stories of domestic violence have been written on
shirts around the
In October 1990, Brewster resident Carol Chicetto attended a women's rally on the
Village Green. She was struck by a collection of thirty-one shirts mounted on a
clothesline. Each was
hand-decorated by women victims of domestic violence, with powerful words and images
struggles. It was the first exhibit of the Clothesline Project, and Chicetto vividly recalls her
: "When I got to the end of the line, I was in tears. And I thought it
because all these shirts, most of them were made by my friends. And it took a few weeks
before I just
started crying one day and couldn't stop. And I really thought I had just lost my mind.
counseling, and talking with other survivors and friends, I realized that my early
childhood, I knew it
was violent, but I didn't think it had the impact on me that it actually had.
For Chicetto, years of memories she'd tried to block out came flooding back. Over time,
come to terms with the emotional and physical abuse of her childhood, and now works
and Outreach Coordinator for the Clothesline Project. The Project originators saw
domestic violence on
the Cape as a huge issue that was being largely ignored. So they asked women to tell
their stories by
decorating shirts, which are hung on clotheslines and periodically displayed.
: "And the whole idea of the Clothesline Project was just a genius
of an idea,
because symbolically, women were the ones who traditionally always did the laundry. So
women's work. And then it was also a symbol of airing society's dirty laundry, because
back in 1990,
believe it or not, this issue was not being talked about publicly - not like today, where we
and magazine articles and newspaper articles. It just wasn't being talked about."
Domestic violence statistics on Cape Cod are alarming. In 2004, Independence House
, a shelter
for battered women, reported 311 new victims of domestic violence on the Cape, and
orders. Chicetto says when a woman lives with an abusive spouse, breaking free can be
difficult, especially when kids are involved.
: "So a woman decides to leave... which is a huge decision...and
then, where do
they go? There are real consequences, and there are a lot of women who've come
forward to me and
said, 'I tried to leave, but I decided that it was better for my kids to stay, because at least
stay in their own home and stay with their friends. And I'm willing to stay and get beaten
up until they
graduate from high school.' I mean, to me, we shouldn't be living in a society where those
The original Clothesline Project received startup funding from the Ryka Rose
Foundation, and the
idea has expanded to forty-one states and five countries. Each Project generates income
donations and fundraisers, like the recent Clothesline Concert in Eastham.
The Clothesline Concert was originated by Chicetto and Orleans singer/songwriter Greg
: "When you see Harwich, you see Orleans, you see Eastham,
you see the
places where these things happen...and it's undeniable that it's everywhere, it crosses
demographic, economic bracket, everything."
In the lobby, concertgoers pause to read the shirts on the clothesline, their bright colors
with the messages of pain and sadness hand-written in magic marker. A young woman,
Nicole, at first
declines to be interviewed.
: "It's hard for me to say...cause I was one of them . . ."
She walks away, but returns ten minutes later, timid but willing to talk.
: " What kinds of questions were you gonna ask me?"
Nicole asked that her last name not be used. Though she sounds younger, she's 22, and
: " I was one who was hurt. And it's very touching to come here, and way
brings up a lotta things, but in a way it's a good thing..cause I know I can't be hurt any
more. And this
is a way I can feel safe.
In a halting voice, she reads from one of the shirts.
: " . . . always afraid, always scared of her life; she never did show it, but
softly at night
. . . "
Many victims of domestic violence feel that silence is the best survival tactic while they're
abused. But speaking out is often the first step toward independence, even though it
involves a great
deal of courage. The Clothesline Project empowers abused women to make their voices
challenges the community at large to listen.
P.O. Box 654
Brewster, MA 02631
Independence House has facilities in Hyannis, Orleans and Provincetown.
160 Bassett Lane
Hyannis MA, 02601
Cape Cod Center for Women
P.O. Box 141
North Falmouth Ma, 02556
Broadcast March 23, 2006
Re-broadcast January 11, 2006
Brian Morris reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations