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On the Line: Project increases awareness of domestic violence reality

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THE grisly image remains carved in Jackie Griffith’s memory years after the fact.

Her mother, helpless in the shower, was shot to death by an estranged boyfriend while Griffith and her brother sat in a different room at their North Vernon home.

“Her boyfriend carried her through the trailer and we saw our naked mom with blood on her,” said Griffith, who was 6 years old at the time and now is a Harrison College campus administrator.

“You never forget something like that, no matter how much time goes by.”

That experience is why Griffith, who still lives in North Vernon, identifies so closely with Harrison College’s annual Clothesline Project, which was launched Tuesday with 62 T-shirts being hung on the college lawn. Each T-shirt features the name of someone statewide who has died during the past year as a result of domestic violence. The shirts will remain hanging on the clothesline next to Poshard Drive during the entire month of October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Of the 62 names, one was from Bartholomew County, one was from Jackson County and two were from Johnson County.

The Bartholomew County victim was Gary J. Brown, 50, who was shot in the abdomen by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, Clifton Cook, about a year ago. The Jackson County victim was Tabitha Brock, 23, whose body was found in a car set ablaze by Gerald Eugene Combs Jr., 29, of Seymour.

About 25 people — many of them Harrison students and Turning Point officials who helped apply names to and decorate the shirts — attended the ceremony Tuesday during a break in the rain.

Turning Point, a domestic violence services agency in Columbus, partners with Harrison College for the annual event.

Charlotte Moss, a Harrison College medical instructor, started the event six years ago by having students cut miniature T-shirts from construction paper they tacked to a classroom bulletin board. They transitioned to an actual clothesline the following year in a move that gave it special meaning.

Moss has said she hopes people will drive by the clothesline and perhaps reflect for a moment at the gravity of what they see.

Some people who showed up Tuesday to help display the shirts have had their own brushes with domestic violence.

Raechel White, a Harrison student, said her father used to abuse alcohol and would sometimes hit her sister and mother. She said that was the first time in her life that she feared her dad, who went to rehab and was able to stop the abuse.

Fellow student Jennifer Luttrell said she wrote on a T-shirt the name of Jacob Andrews, 3, who the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence says was drowned by his mother in Johnson County. Filling out the shirt and hanging it on the clothesline affected Luttrell deeply, because she has a 1½-year-old daughter.

“It happens right here in our hometown,” she said. “We can’t forget.”

Beth Goodwin, a business and computer instructor at the college, said she had filled out a shirt with the name of a 10-year-old boy. As a mom, she felt a great deal of sadness and confusion about why someone would hurt a helpless child.

Jessica Smith, prevention services manager at Turning Point, noted the high number of shirts featuring the names of boys. She said that demonstrates the reality that domestic abuse happens to people of all sexes and ages, even though the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 85 percent are women.

She said statistics indicate that someone is abused in this country every 15 seconds. The Clothesline Program brings attention to that stark reality.

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