If there’s one thing organizers hope people learn from a new exhibit at the Human Rights Education Institute, it’s that domestic violence isn’t limited to one group of people. It affects all ages, all genders and all social classes.
“It’s not always ‘a man beats a woman so you have domestic violence,’ ” said Rachel Dolezal, an artist who set up the exhibit. “It’s not necessarily all just black and white.”
On display through the end of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the exhibit features framed posters with writings, photos and other art about victims. T-shirts decorated by women and children at a shelter hang on a clothesline in the lobby of the institute, 414 Mullan Ave., at the northeast corner of Coeur d’Alene City Park.
Silhouettes throughout the institute’s main room represent victims of abuse in Idaho. Some accompany plaques telling the victim’s story.
One represents Deborah Whipple, a Wallace woman whose husband beat her to death with a hammer in 1996. Another plaque is for Jennifer Miller, a 24-year-old Coeur d’Alene woman shot dead by her ex-boyfriend in 1999. Other kid-sized silhouettes represent victims of child abuse. Signs show statistics on domestic violence and how it affects the children who so often witness it.
“It’s the kind of exhibit you’ll have to spend some time in to really appreciate,” institute director Bob Bennett said.
A sign outside the main exhibit warns visitors of the explicit content, and Dolezal recommends parents use discretion when bringing small children.
“There’s a lot of pain there, you can see that,” said Bennett, pointing at the T-shirts hanging in the lobby.
The clothesline project came from a national effort to raise awareness about domestic violence, Dolezal said. The shirts made by adult survivors are color-coded to represent the type of violence and whether the victim survived, she said, and the clothesline represents the stereotypical role women play in the household.
Bennett and Dolezal said they have had different experiences with domestic violence, but a common theme emerges in their stories: the need for more knowledge about how to address violence in relationships.
Bennett remembers the wife of a sociology instructor approaching him while he was president at North Idaho College, confiding in him that her husband was abusive and that she feared for her life.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it – I did not know,” he said.
Lack of knowledge about abuse and how to recognize it kept Dolezal from leaving an abusive relationship sooner, she said.
“I had no idea what to look for,” she said. “It may seem like a small step just to raise awareness, but I think it’s possibly one of the most significant steps forward: Break the silence.”