SAPHE’s Clothesline Project unsettles sexual assault survivors

Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education hosted a Healthy Relationships Week as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month at the beginning of April. SAPHE is a Tulane organization that provides a 24-hour sexual aggression hotline and advocates for sexual aggression awareness and prevention. The organization hung T-shirts in the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life decorated with messages against sexual assault as part of The Clothesline Project, a national program that allows survivors of sexual assault to express their emotions while increasing sexual aggression awareness.

While some shirts carried simple messages of survivor support, others held detailed accounts of specific attacks. For example, one shirt read: “My attacker said I flipped my skirt up. I was wearing a romper.” Others rattled off statistics about sexual assault on campuses.

Sexual assault is a crucial issue facing college campuses, and organizations that advocate against it play a vital role at Tulane. The use of provoking visuals and statistics, however, are indicative of the difficulty in finding a balance between sexual aggression awareness and remaining sensitive to the needs of survivors. Additionally, gendered symbols imply that sexual assault is a women’s issue, which minimizes the experiences of victims of other genders.

While The Clothesline Project supports survivors of sexual aggression who have already connected with SAPHE, it may have been damaging to those who have not. SAPHE cannot be criticized for not speaking with unaffiliated survivors of assaults, and it is difficult to hold the organization accountable for the harm it could cause. But by hanging the shirts in such a highly-trafficked part of campus without any clear prior notification, SAPHE left survivors who might have been triggered or emotionally upset by the messages without the choice to avoid them if they desired.

This situation is indicative of the difficulty faced by many anti-sexual assault activists in finding a balance between advocacy and survivor support. While increased awareness is an important step in stopping sexual aggression, consideration of survivors must come first. Public awareness and generation of dialogue are essential for reducing incidences of sexual aggression. Increased communication prior to sexual assault awareness week would give sexual aggression survivors the knowledge necessary to avoid visuals that could be unsettling or provoking.

This is an opinions article and does not reflect the opinions of The Hullabaloo. Camille Frink is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected].

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