Lisa Cates came to the Clothesline project with her two friends and their dogs in tow. Equipped with her profession around her, Lisa shouldered her camera in its zipper case as she spread her yellow shirt in front of her. Paints and other artists crowded the table, and as I made rounds talking to everyone in attendance, I could hear snippets of Lisa’s questions to her friends: “Should I say, ‘Don’t drop the soap’ or ‘See you at the rodeo’?” I smiled and kept moving, encouraged by how seriously she was taking her message. I assumed then that someone was in prison, or should be, from whatever had happened to Lisa. Still, with several people at the Clothesline during that hour, I kept rotating and meeting new faces.
Lisa stayed for over an hour making her shirt, which ended up having messages on both sides. She took some pictures as it hung on the line, and told me she would come by later before we closed down for the day.
Around 4:45pm, 15 minutes before we’d planned to officially end the event for the day, I was painting a peace sign with another artist. This 10-year-old girl was asking me how to spell “awareness” when I saw Lisa back with another friend. I moved from the painting table to the line, and came upon Lisa and her older sister Robin, both crying gently at the shirt Lisa had made. They were facing the back which showed two girls holding hands with the words “I think we’ll be alright” painted in blue cursive beside the image. That’s when I heard their story.
Robin and Lisa lived in an apartment together a couple years ago. Their land-lady had a son (Avery) who managed the property: repairing things that broke, dealing with the yard work, etc. This man was interested in Robin. A few dates occurred, but there wasn’t a committed, exclusive relationship in place. Things started to go south. Both the Cates sisters used their land-lady as a kind of confidant, and shared the odd things that Avery was doing in the dating relationship. Then Robin was kidnapped, held with a gun, beaten and raped by Avery. After Robin escaped, she went to the police (where she was all but ignored), to the hospital (where SANE nurses were critically important to her care and treatment) and to her land-lady. Her land-lady was told the story, to which she wrote a check for the apartment deposit and told the girls to “disappear”.
Thankfully for whoever would have been Avery’s next victim, Robin did not disappear. Robin and her sister fought back, went to court, Robin testified through four painful hours. Avery is now behind bars. It turns out that Robin was number five in Avery’s parade of beaten and raped acquaintances, started when he was only 17 years old.
Robin and Lisa have prevailed through unimaginable hardships, and because of their bond together, among other reasons, they have made it through. Now, in the very public eye, these women tell their story. Doubtlessly they have been blamed for the whole affair, as many media outlets and people tend to wrongly do to victims. I’m sure they’ve faced questions and statements from many who clearly don’t get it. Still, they stand strong and publically, telling the truth and making the world safer for other women. As a rape victim myself who has filed a complaint, but was terrified to do any more, I admire them. As a woman who has two nieces that are growing up in our world, I thank them. As a person who believes that yes means yes and anything else is no, I pay tribute to them. These women are examples of bravery, courage, and shared strength.
“Should I wear my hair down like you?” Lisa asked Robin. They smiled, the tears having dried on their cheeks, and stood on either side of Lisa’s t-shirt as I took their picture together. “Am I in red or orange?” Robin asked. I snapped another picture. The wind was picking up again and the volunteers had started to close down the Clothesline. At about 6pm, I said goodbye to Lisa and Robin. I remember walking over to my friend who had come to help tear down the event, and telling her that those women were something special.
Lisa and Robin will be alright. And so will other women because of their work. We, as women in New Orleans, owe our belief and our gratitude to the Cates sisters. Take inspiration from the strength found between two sisters, and carry that with you today. They’ll be alright. So will we all.
The back of Lisa’s shirt.
The front of Lisa’s shirt.
To hear more about the news story relating to Robin’s kidnapping and rape, click here.
To see Lisa’s amazing photography website, click here.