More than 300 shirts were strewn on clotheslines across Fordham Plaza in Bronx, N.Y., on October 6 in an effort to spotlight an issue that often goes unaddressed among HIVers and those at high risk for infection--domestic violence. Each shirt was decorated by a person who had experienced domestic violence or by the loved ones of those who didn't survive the physical, mental, and emotional abuse.
Called the Clothesline Project, the outreach effort was designed to 'air the dirty laundry' and break the silence around domestic violence in the community, according to Sojourner McCauley, one of the organizers of the event and a survivor of domestic violence. 'Similar to the AIDS Memorial Quilt,' she says, 'the clothesline puts a human face on the statistics of violence against women.'
Bronx AIDS Services, which offers prevention and support services to more than 25,000 borough residents each year, sponsored the event because women in poor communities such as the Bronx are at high risk for both domestic violence and HIV infection, says Jose Davila, agency executive director. A 2003 study by the New York Academy of Medicine also showed that drug or alcohol use is a common cofactor in domestic violence situations. Substance abuse is also tied to unsafe sex or needle sharing, both of which significantly boost HIV infection risks.
More than 500 people, including Democratic U.S. representatives Joseph Crowley and Jose Serrano and several local government officials, attended the event, says Hemansu Mangal, director of community relations for Bronx AIDS Services. Visitors were able to meet and talk with the men and women making the T-shirts and learn more about their personal experiences with domestic violence. 'It's not something we talk about enough,' Mangal says, 'so the idea was to make this a very public event so that we could begin to increase public awareness about this issue in our community.'