Alexandria Detention Center displays Clothesline Project for the first time

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Domestic Violence Awareness month has come to a close, but officials in the City of Alexandria say their work is far from over.

The city embraced October, with displays ranging from purple lights, to the “Clothesline Project” which began in the late 1990’s in Massachusetts. 

“It was kind of a hands on project to bring awareness to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors — as well as those who unfortunately did not survive. So, we give them t-shirts to decorate in anyway that they’d like.” explained Barbara Sweeney, residential coordinator at the city’s safe house program.

This year was the first time a display was posted at the Alexandria Detention Center. Members of the detention center’s sober living unit, a voluntary program, were able to make shirts.

“[They] have experienced a lot of trauma in their lifetime and it’s been a very good outlet for them, and it’s kind of a way for them to create something they can give back to the community.” Sweeney said.

Approximately 29 shirts hung in a long hallway leading to the jail. Over 100 were displayed throughout the city.

Each tells a story.

“Sherita was killed here in Alexandria in 1999.” Sweeney said, pointing to a shirt commemorating Sherita Traynham.

Sweeney, doesn’t see strangers stories, she sees faces. She hopes the display will help others humanize domestic violence as well.

“Domestic violence can happen to anyone — it can happen anywhere, it doesn’t discriminate,” said Sweeney. 

She is getting ready to take down the clothesline display, but her work is far from over, and her advocacy is paying off.

“[We are receiving] an increase in strangulation cases, we probably have a strangulation call a night which is really high considering the City of Alexandria is only 14 square miles,” Sweeney said. 

She is not certain why the reported incidents have increased, but she is pleased to hear more people are making the call to get help.

“Strangulation victims can die up to three weeks after an assault,” explained Sweeney.

The crime was not considered a felony in Virginia until 2012.

Now, Sweeney is focused on efforts raising awareness on the link between domestic violence and animal abuse.

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