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Clothesline Project Encourages Assault Victims To Speak Out

As the Pentagon and Congress debate how to curb sexual assault in the military, the VA San Diego held its third annual "Clothesline Project" Monday to encourage assault survivors to break their silence and share their stories.

Dozens of T-shirts line a room in the San Diego Veteran's Affairs Medical Center as part of the Clothesline Project, on April 26, 2011.
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Above: Dozens of T-shirts line a room in the San Diego Veteran's Affairs Medical Center as part of the Clothesline Project, on April 26, 2011.

One out of every five female veterans is sexually assaulted during military service. Two years ago, there were nearly 2,500 reports of rape, aggravated sexual assault or forced sodomy in the military but only 240 cases made it to court martial.

The Clothesline Project is simple: victims decorate a shirt or a piece of their uniform in a way that shares the feelings they felt as a result of sexual assault they experienced while in the military. Despite its simplicity, the project has been effective at giving victims an outlet for their pain and a way to band together against sexual assault.

Deborah Davis is one of those victims. She said she suffered in silence for decades after being assaulted twice at Naval bases in the U.S. And Okinawa in the mid-'70s.

"I reported it to the people I worked with and the hospital," Davis said. "It was a very traumatic situation ... because they did not understand at all what I was talking about nor did they want to believe me."

Congress is currently considering ways to prevent commanding officers from overturning rulings made by judges and juries in sexual assault cases. As Congress members mull the change in protocol, proponents of the change are vowing to work hard to make it happen.

"It means we need to work harder, we need to raise awareness, we need to have people speaking up, we need people to stand against this," said Carolyn Allard, director of the VA San Diego's MST clinic.

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