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Shelly Clevenger next to a purple lamp

Professor Shelly Clevenger is shining a light on domestic violence through the “Survivors: Stories of Domestic Violence” performance and "Purple Light Project."

Professor organizes Normal Theater performance to shine light on domestic violence

People have mixed reactions when Shelly Clevenger tells them she is going to use cardboard cutouts to depict the bodies of victims of domestic violence in a performance at the Normal Theater. But seeing the image of a survivor makes it more real.

“It will be more memorable than a reading,” Clevenger said. “You can’t unsee it, so it will stick with you. It’s not that I want people to feel bad, but I want them to realize what an issue domestic violence is, that it really does hurt people, people of this community.”

“Survivors: Stories of Domestic Violence” will be performed at 7 p.m. Monday, September 30. Volunteers from Illinois State and the Bloomington-Normal community will stand in for local survivors, quoting from their stories, and telling how they coped. Clevenger, a criminal justice sciences professor, interviewed the survivors for her research on domestic violence. She chose stories that were inclusive, including those involving same-sex relationships, and a woman with a disability who was abused by her caregiver.

Students will present graphic images of what happened. The image of one man will depict claw marks down his arms. His girlfriend also stomped on his eye with a stiletto heel. In another story, a 6-month-old infant cried as his father beat his mother. The baby was struck with a frying pan and grew up to be an activist against domestic violence.

“When we think about domestic violence, we often think about it being a romantic situation, and it’s not just that,” Clevenger said.

Two cardboard cutouts

Professor Shelly Clevenger is using cardboard cutouts to depict the bodies of victims of domestic violence in a performance at the Normal Theater.

Volunteer participants will include Bloomington-Normal police officers, Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff, and College of Applied Science and Technology Dean Todd McLoda.

Proceeds from the event will go to YWCA Stepping Stones, the McLean County sexual assault program, and the Neville House Shelter, a refuge for victims of domestic violence. Artwork created by survivors working alongside Clevenger’s students will also be for sale.

Clevenger is hoping this will become an annual event. She chose the date because it comes just before Domestic Violence Awareness Month starts in October. Since the performance could be a “triggering event” for survivors, counselors will be available at the theater.

“Survivors” is a civic engagement project for Clevenger’s victimology students, similar to her “What Were You Wearing?” project last spring, which involved students dressing mannequins in clothing similar to what survivors were wearing during sexual assaults. That exhibit drew national attention, with Clevenger invited to display the exhibit at an international conference in San Diego next month.

She is hoping to create an exhibit from the “Survivors” performance to be displayed on campus in October.

One of the unique ways she is promoting the show and Domestic Violence Awareness Month is through her “Purple Light Project.” She is painting donated lamps purple, the color that represents domestic violence awareness. The lamps will included hotline numbers and will be displayed along with a poster throughout campus and the community.

“One of the reasons I chose lamps is that a lot of survivors talk about how they felt they were always in darkness,” Clevenger said. “As a child or adult, it felt so dark and hopeless. I thought a lamp or a light was a nice symbol for that.”

The lamps will include a Harry Potter quote: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

“It’s a small thing, seeing a lamp, but it could potentially help somebody,” she said. “If you’re not in a domestic violence situation, you would at least think about it for 5 or 10 seconds.”

To donate or display a lamp, which does not have to be working, contact Shelly Clevenger at

Survivors: Local Stories of Domestic Violence

  • 7 p.m. Monday, September 30
  • Normal Theater, Uptown Normal
  • Tickets: $5 students; $7 adults

Tickets may be purchased in person or online from the Normal Theater. Proceeds benefit YWCA Stepping Stones and Neville House. Contact Shelly Clevenger for more information.

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