Southern Illinois domestic violence survivor breaks silence

Women’s Center Clothesline project at SIUC

Abuse victims honored at the Women's Center

CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, The Women’s Center is hosting events all month-long.

On a sunny and breezy fall day, students at Southern Illinois University stopped by the table near Faner Hall inquiring about the dozens of colorful t-shirts on a clothesline for the Clothesline Project.

Those students learned the shirts that hang on the clothesline represent a wide spectrum of abuse and violence.

Among the students was Courtney Smith, a survivor of domestic violence.

She shared her story, “I’ve had a lot of trauma in my past, and I chose to face the trauma and not let it define me or hold me back any longer.”

Currently, Smith lives in Carbondale, but she’s from Centralia. Her experiences dates back to her teen years.

“As a teenager, I started dating a couple of men in my life and they were physically abusive," she said.

However, right now, Smith is married. She allegedly experienced verbal and emotional abuse from her husband, and is now in the process of filing for a divorce.

“I’m a survivor because I stood up to the situation and I left it,” she said.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 40 percent of women and men experience “coercive control” by an intimate partner in a lifetime.

“When you are in the situation it looks like there is no way out," she said. "I never discovered my worth until this year and that’s whenever I left the situation and did not return.”

The Project originated in Hyannis, Mass. in 1990. A clothesline was used because women in close knit neighborhoods have traditionally exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging laundry out to dry.

These shirts are designed by survivors of abuse, and those who have lost loved ones to violence.

“If there is abuse going on, it has to be exposed to the light. Events like these I believe will help more and more to know it’s okay to talk about it," Smith said.

The Women’s Center’s Transitional Housing Case Manager Sarah Settles said the project is for both students on campus and for survivors who make the shirts.

“It’s a way to let a release out and it’s one step close to possibly getting out of the situation,” Settles said.

“Dealing with it, I see there’s victory now. Once you face that fear, everything you want is on the other side," Smith said. "Life is falling into place, a whole new life I never dreamed I could have.”

Back in August, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a new law that is designed to protect survivors of domestic violence.

There will be another Clothesline Project display on Thursday at John A. Logan, along with a month-long of events.

If you feel you are suffering from domestic violence and need to talk to someone, the crisis hotline is 1-800-334-2094.

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