National Clothesline Project Promotes Healing and Awareness

Posted: October 5, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Janet Behl at Clothesline Project
Janet Pelasar, mother of slain VCU student Taylor Behl, spoke to students at Mason’s Clothesline Project.

When Janet Pelasar dropped her daughter, Taylor Behl, off at Virginia Commonwealth University last fall, she never imagined how those first few weeks of college might end.

“It was the beginning of what were supposed to be the best years of her life,” said Pelasar, who was on campus Tuesday. She hung a T-shirt on Mason’s Clothesline Project in honor of her daughter.

Pelasar spoke before a crowd that was gathered around part of the project in a grove of trees between Harris Theater and Student Union I on the Fairfax Campus. She reminded those gathered that her daughter’s body was found one year ago this week in a shallow grave in Mathews County, Virginia, just one month after she went missing during her second week of school.

Pelasar read an excerpt from a book she has spent the past year writing about Behl and their life together. “I am writing about who she was — and who I was,” she said. She has also been working with CBS producers on an episode of “48 Hours” about Behl’s case that is expected to be televised in November.

The Clothesline Project was started in Massachusetts in 1990 by Rachel Carey-Harper, a visual artist who was so moved by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest ongoing community arts project in the world, that she decided to use a similar vehicle to raise awareness about violence against women.

The project began with 31 T-shirts hung on a clothesline in a village green. Now, the national Clothesline Project estimates that there are more than 500 ongoing projects in 41 states and five countries exhibiting more than 60,000 shirts. This is Mason’s 11th year participating in the project, which is part of the annual Turn Off the Violence Week.

“The clothesline just grows longer and louder each year,” says Connie Kirkland, director of Mason’s Sexual Assault Services. She says the project contains “more than 500 shirts created mostly by our own students who are acknowledging their victimizations or the victimizations of their loved ones.”

Commenting on having Janet Pelasar at Mason, Kirkland says, “I see Janet as a change agent, as a motivation to all of us to continue working to end violence against women and to realize that there is always more than one victim during any incident.”

Behl’s shirt hangs beside shirts remembering Aimee Willard, the Mason student athlete who was murdered in 1996. The shirts are white because the girls are deceased. The shirts are color-coded to show the form of abuse and whether or not the woman survived the experience.

Today is the last day for the Clothesline Project. Tables are set up to provide information about the issue and the week and materials to create a shirt.

For more information about Turn Off the Violence, visit the web site.

Clothesline project
Photos by Evan Cantwell

Write to at