Lives on the line

July 4, 2003, was a day of independence in more ways than one for one Columbus resident.

Michelle Hornback was fed up. Her abusive boyfriend had left her feeling worthless and isolated, and his psychological abuse convinced her that she had no one in the world to turn to but him.

But on that Independence Day 12 years ago, Hornback, now 42, walked out of a life of abuse and defeat and into a new version of herself.

“I headed toward a life of hope with no chains,” she said.

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While Hornback’s story is one of liberation, not all people who experience domestic violence are able to escape their situations.

In fact, 55 people in Indiana died from domestic abuse between July 1, 2014, and June 30; and four have died since.

To honor those lives lost, and to remind the living of the need to end domestic violence — both in Columbus and around the world — Harrison College hosted its 10th Clothesline Project on Wednesday.

“As we gather together to honor the memory of those who lost their lives to domestic violence in the last 12 months, it is a somber reminder of the work that still has to be done,” said Lisa Shafran, president of Turning Point Domestic Violence Services. “We cannot do it alone.”

For example, more than 1,000 domestic-dispute calls were placed to Columbus or Bartholomew County police agencies each of the past four years and more than 200 battery reports have been filed with local police annually since 2012.

Additionally, the number of nightly stays at the Columbus-based domestic abuse shelter increased nearly 15 percent last year, when 180 adults and 154 children received housing help.

The Clothesline Project is a national event conducted in 41 states and five countries around the world.

At the Columbus event, Harrison College students decorate T-shirts with the names of men and women who died in domestic violence incidents in a 12-month period in Indiana each year.

“We don’t call them all victims, but they are all people who have died related to domestic violence,” said Stephen Dishinger, Turning Point community-level prevention specialist.

The Columbus Clothesline Project began when Charlotte Moss’ “Strategies for Success” class at Harrison College hosted a smaller-scale version of the event in the classroom.

“We made T-shirts and paper and did it on the bulletin board in our classroom,” said Moss, who is now a Turning Point community services director in Jackson County. “The students liked it so well they said, ‘Maybe next year we can do it bigger.'”

Now — a decade later — students and faculty members from Harrison, Turning Point representatives and other community members gather together each year to display the T-shirts on a clothesline outside the college facing Poshard Drive, in plain sight of any passers-by.

Some shirts were sentimental, with messages such as “Fly high! Never be forgotten!”

But others were pointed, relying on words such as “Love shouldn’t hurt” and “Leave before it is too late.”

“The display is very powerful,” said Angie Shafer, president of Harrison College in Columbus.

In addition to Hornback’s story, two Harrison students shared their own triumphs over abuse.

Corey Creech said he did not wish to share the details of his experience with abuse publicly but instead encouraged the crowd of about 40 to work together as a community to raise awareness for domestic violence victims throughout the city.

Taylor Reed also did not delve into the details of the way her abuser treated her but recalled feeling isolated and helpless.

“This project helped me realize that there are people willing to stand up,” Reed said. “I thought my voice didn’t matter, but I want everyone here to know their voice deserves to be heard.”

After the shirts were placed on the clothesline and Hornback, Creech and Reed shared their stories, participants paused for 59 seconds of silence to honor the lives represented by the 55 T-shirts and the four additional lives since lost to violence.

While the number of deaths this year was down from 67 last year — a positive sign for the trend of domestic violence across the state — Shafran said the fight to end domestic violence is far from over.

“Our goal is an empty clothesline,” she said.

The underlying message at Wednesday’s ceremony was one of hope for the freedom of those enduring domestic violence today and for the eradication of all abuse in the future.

After years of physical, verbal and sexual abuse, Hornback has earned one college degree, is working on a second and has lost more than 100 pounds since finding her independence 12 years ago.

If she could overcome her situation, Hornback said, then she believes others can do the same.

“I have hope today,” Hornback said.

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“I thought my voice didn’t matter, but I want everyone here to know their voice deserves to be heard.”

Corey Creech, Harrison College student, on suffering domestic abuse