What Were You Wearing?
In January 2020, we helped host the What Were You Wearing exhibit on the Kelowna campus. This powerful exhibit shows participants that sexual assault has nothing to do with the clothes a person wears.
The exhibit has been shown in cities all over North America. Each one is modelled after the original 2013 presentation by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyand-Hiebert of the University of Arkansas.
The exhibit walls are lined with clothing items like a blue shirt and jeans, a tank top and shorts, a child-sized pair of pyjamas. On their own, these are simple, ordinary clothes; they hold no provocation, no meaning. But the framed description under each article of clothing transforms these clothes into something unsettling. Each of these descriptions tells a short but poignant anecdote from the mouths of the survivors whose clothes are now on display, recounting their experience. It asks participants to understand not only the grief and anger of the survivors, but also the hurt they felt when they were asked, “But what were you wearing?”
If only understanding a sexual assault was as simple as the clothes the victim wore. Blaming it on the clothes is an easy, uninvolved way to explain a situation that is complicated and traumatizing. Participants are forced to look beyond these misconceptions and face the ugly reality. That these victims are, simply put, victims. Not a temptress who had it coming, or a man who “should have wanted it.” These stories are clearly, painfully, humanizing.
Safety cannot be guaranteed by throwing on another layer. Changing clothes does not rid the survivor of their harrowing experience.
It asks participants to ask themselves, “Why? Why do we ask what they were wearing?”