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Clothesline Project comes to Two Harbors

T-shirts memorialize the lives of Minnesota victims of domestic homicide, including three-year old Devin Drake and five-month old Alexis VanHoutan. Photo by Tammy François.

A tiny onesie hangs from a clothesline in the lobby of North Shore Horizons in Two Harbors.

On the front, in bold multi-colored letters, is a name and age: "Princess Alexa VanHoutan, 5 months."

It's not a garment Alexa wore, or will wear. Instead, it's a memorial to her brief life.

Alexa was just one of the 34 known victims of domestic homicide or related incidences in Minnesota in 2011. There is no state or federal agency that collects comprehensive data on this crime, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women in St. Paul, so this number is thought to be low. But each year, media reports are compiled and t-shirts are made to commemorate the lives lost.

Advocates at North Shore Horizons say that people are moved by the sight of the garments and the accompanying narratives briefly describing each victim's story.

"People were crying," said NSH housing coordinator Alex Radzak.

"It's easy to look at stats or what we see on television, but people came in and made the connection that these aren't just numbers, they're real people who lost their lives," said Radzak, adding that these are just a "teeny-tiny" fraction of people affected by domestic violence throughout the region and the U.S. each year.

Alexa was shaken by her father when he couldn't calm her one night. She was hospitalized and efforts were made to save her life, but to no avail. The metro suburban Coon Rapids infant died of the injuries she sustained.

Other stories tell of women whose intimate partners killed them or people who were killed trying to help a victim. Such was the case with Lake City Police Officer Shawn Schneider, who was shot to death when he responded to a domestic violence call in the small Mississippi River town halfway between the Twin Cities and Winona.

The shirts, often designed by family members or friends of the victims, are part of a somber MCBW tradition dating back to 1992. Shirts and other garments are added each year and parts of the exhibit are borrowed by organizations throughout the state during the month of October -- Domestic Violence Awareness Month. NSH offered them for public view throughout this week.

NSH provides a range of services for battered women, their children and victims of sexual violence. They have forged relationships with local law enforcement, prosecutors, health care providers and social services to develop a coordinated response to these crimes -- ensuring that victims get the services they need.

Last year, according to NSH statistics, 262 domestic violence and 44 sexual assault survivors were served by the organization. Already this year, it has provided services to about 200 people. Services include emergency housing, transitional and supportive housing when available, support groups, legal advocacy, information and referrals, and more.

Beginning in November, NSH will be starting another Healing Arts group, said advocate Drea Scribner. The gatherings offer time and space for survivors of violence to explore healing through the creative process. Similar groups are being held throughout the region and the artists' completed works are currently on display at the University of Minnesota Duluth's Multi-Cultural Center in the Kirby Student Center. Those who'd like to participate in the November group are asked to call Scribner at North Shore Horizons. The groups are free of charge.

If you are being hurt or threatened by someone in your life or home, call North Shore Horizons at 218-834-5924. The phone is answered 24-hours a day, every day. Visit for more information.