Fifty-five white T-shirts swing in the breeze on a makeshift clothesline along East Fourth Street in front of Cummins Inc. Seymour Engine Plant.
Each shirt is decorated with the name and age of a man, woman or child who died in Indiana last year as a result of domestic violence. None of the victims was from Jackson County.
The shirts were decorated by Cummins employees, some of whom wrote other phrases on the shirts, such as “Gone but not forgotten,” “A life lost too soon” and even “Fly high princess” in memory of a 3-year-old named Addison Gehl.
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The Clothesline Project is a way to grab the community’s attention and get people talking about the issue of domestic violence and how to prevent it, said Lisa Shafran, president of Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, an agency supported by Jackson County United Way.
“It’s visual and has staying power,” Shafran said of the impact the T-shirts make. “It gives us an opportunity to share Turning Point’s message.”
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the shirts will remain on the clothesline through the end of the month, said Candace Foist, a Cummins Community Involvement Team member and Turning Point liaison.
That way, people driving or walking past will continue to see it, Foist said.
Cummins employees hung the shirts Wednesday afternoon as Foist read all 55 names, and co-worker Emily Surenkamp rang a bell after each name.
This is the third year Cummins has organized the project at its Seymour plant. Last year, there were 67 shirts decorated and hung on the line. Clothesline projects also are done in Columbus by Harrison College students and in Franklin by Franklin College students.
Foist said the idea for the clothesline first began in 1990 in Massachusetts with a group of women who hung 31 shirts.
“Now, there are 50,000 to 60,000 shirts being decorated nationally and internationally that are being hung on more than 500 clotheslines,” she said.
Barb Hayes has worked at the plant for six years and said the Clothesline Project is not only a fitting way to remember those who have died but plays an important role in raising awareness of the issue of domestic violence.
“Your heart just goes out because their life was taken too soon, and it was unnecessary,” Hayes said of the 55 victims. “It is preventable.”
Hayes said she hasn’t known anyone who has died from domestic abuse, but she knows the effects of it all too well.
“I’ve known abuse in my family,” she said. “It’s something that stays with you forever. I was abused when I was in my 20s, and time heals, but you never forget it. I know what it’s like to experience that.”
Years ago, it wasn’t something she felt like she could talk about with anyone, she said.
“Now, because of things like this, we are able to talk about it, and people feel like there is someone who does care,” she said.
Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said domestic violence happens every day, not only across the country, but right here in the local community.
“We average about 50 arrests a year for domestic battery alone,” he said. “Historically, we average about one homicide a year, and the majority of those over the years have been domestic violence related.”
In 2013, Seymour Police Department recorded 59 arrests for domestic battery. There were 57 arrests made in 2014, and so far this year, there have been 47, Abbott said.
Ten years ago, there were 50.
“It’s a pretty constant number, but it should be going down,” Abbott said. “We just have to keep doing what we can to get the message out. We can’t say it enough, but we need to get the word out even more.”
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Carothers said there are many more instances of abuse taking place beyond the 50 to 60 arrests made here every year.
“That’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the ones that have not been arrested for this,” he said. “The abuse that’s not reported, to me, that’s one of the saddest parts of it because those are victims, too. But they need to have support from family from friends, from other people to help them come forward.”
Carothers said the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is for the community to support those who are going through it and to show children that it’s not all right to hit anyone.
“If we all work together, we can take these 50 arrests down to zero. But it’s going to take everyone working at it to do it,” he said.
Tonja Couch, executive director of Jackson County United Way, said the community is fortunate to have Turning Point services and staff available locally.
“We know in order for this to end, we have to address the root cause, and the prevention work that Turning Point is doing will make that change happen,” she said.
Charlotte Moss, Turning Point’s community services director for Jackson County, said she is proud of the work that is ongoing locally to end domestic violence.
She said 69 Jackson County families received services from Turning Point’s community outreach office in 2014, including 14 adults and seven children who stayed a total of 256 nights at the agency’s emergency shelter in Bartholomew County.
In the area of prevention, Moss said, Turning Point led 154 presentations at local schools discussing domestic violence and safe dating, reaching more than 3,000 students.
She presented Jackson County Public Library with the agency’s annual mission partner award for its support of the new Teens for Change program. Also receiving an award Wednesday was Kim Barnett with Southern Indiana Hispanic Services. She was honored with Turning Point’s Distinguished Service Award.
Although it’s never easy to deal with the death of a loved one, Hayes said, it would be even more difficult knowing they had died as a result of domestic violence.
“If someone is sick, you can kind of prepare yourself for that. But when someone is taken this way, you’re blindsided, and there’s always this ‘Why did this happen?’” Hayes said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
The Clothesline Project shows people who may be suffering from abuse that someone cares, even if it’s a stranger, Hayes said.
She may not have known any of the 55 victims before, but Hayes said she feels a connection with them now.
“Putting a name on a T-shirt represents that human being, and they were important,” she said. “Without this, no one would know these people or what they went through.”
Shafran said it is Turning Point’s ultimate goal to end domestic violence.
“Someday, we truly hope that the clothesline will continue to get shorter or there will be no shirts to put on it,” she said.