Harvard, Not Clothesline Project, Insufficient
Letter to the editor
Joyce K. McIntyre ’02 has criticized the Clothesline Project, a project of Take Back the Night (TBTN), because it did “not adequately empower potential victims of sexual assault to seek justice for themselves, nor did it effectively advocate for the reduction of sexual assault at Harvard” (Column, “Clothesline Insufficient,” April 16).
This criticism would be applicable if it were not for the twelve other Take Back the Night events that centered on information and empowerment and the Science Center display (which explained where to go to for help and how to press charges). The Clothesline Project has a very specific purpose: it gives voice to the survivors of these horrible violations. It is not a political statement, and without the proper education surrounding the testimonials, it cannot deter rapists. There was information (Harvard’s brochures) available at all TBTN events including the Clothesline Project but organizers do not force them on people—especially when they are reading survivors’ testimonies.
More important, however, is the issue of responsibility. Harvard as a university should be held accountable for the lack of information, support and resources surrounding the issues of sexual assault, not the student organizers of TBTN.
McIntyre mentioned that a large proportion of Harvard students are not even clear on what the sexual assault policies are. To this end, TBTN sponsored a panel about Harvard’s sexual assault policies, where participants acknowledged that students are not even aware of the policies or how the Administrative Board process works. This is clearly a fault of the University and how it educates students on Harvard policies in the first few weeks of freshman year. Instead of the t-shirts which give assault victims a space to voice their pain, should we just put 100 copies of the student handbook up on a clothesline? Or maybe we could make it more visible by writing the policies on t-shirts in place of the Clothesline Project. Clearly, these approaches would detract from the efficacy and original purpose of the Clothesline Project.
In addition, McIntyre states that “proactive responses against assault should be at least as visible and accessible as the victims’ stories that hung on the clothesline.” Alongside a few shirts that detailed successful encounters with pressing charges, there were far too many shirts which spoke of the betrayal and disbelief that victims felt after failing in their efforts to be “proactive.” Perhaps if we had better education and policies in place, there would be more successful stories to tell.
McIntyre also complains that “the most visible part” of TBTN did not inform students “what to do if we are the victims of assault.” First of all, there is no definitive “what to do.” Some victims feel better after receiving counseling, some after going to the Ad Board, some by navigating the court system, but many have been betrayed by each route.
The Clothesline Project was not insufficient. The true insufficiencies lie in Harvard’s policies and lack of support.
Margaret C. Anadu ’02
April 16, 2002
The writer was co-chair of TBTN 2002.