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“What Were You Wearing?”

by | Sep 23, 2017 | 4 comments

clothing has nothing to do with sexual assault

What I was wearing never mattered…

“What were you wearing?”

It’s a question people ask survivors of sexual violence all too often; a question wrought with victim-blaming and an implication that, maybe, the survivor could’ve prevented their assault if they had worn something less revealing, less sexy.

A powerful art exhibit currently on display at the University of Kansas aims to debunk this myth. The exhibit titled “What Were You Wearing?” features 18 stories of sexual violence and representations of what each victim was wearing at the time of their assault. The outfits include a bikini, a young boy’s yellow collared shirt, a sexy red dress and a T-shirt and jeans.

The art project was created in 2013 by Jen Brockman, the director of KU’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center, and Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert, who oversees all programming initiatives at the University of Arkansas’ rape education center. The installation has been featured at several other schools since 2013, including University of Arkansas and University of Iowa.

Brockman told HuffPost that the main goal of “What Were You Wearing?” is to promote awareness about sexual violence and to combat victim-blaming.

Alanna Vagianos

Huffington Post, Art Exhibit Powerfully Answers The Question ‘What Were You Wearing?’

what you were wearing – art by Michael Samadhi (from an original photograph by Jennifer Sprague)

Victim Shaming & “What Were You Wearing?”

I have zero tolerance for victim shaming. I am a sexual abuse victim. And, I was shamed. My abuser was an authority figure, a teacher. Not a school teacher, but my piano teacher. My abuse went on for nearly three years.

There was no way to escape. I tried everything I could to get out of my piano lessons. Everything short of admitting I was being abused. In my early adolescent mind, telling my parents that I was being abused was too shameful.

When I was 18, I told my girlfriend, Cheryl. She was compassionate and absolutely non-judgemental. It was the first time in my life where I felt it was ok to be vulnerable enough to tell the story. Her love felt unconditional. Cheryl encouraged me to tell my parents.

She thought I’d be releasing a great burden, one I’d been carrying for a long time. If I told them what had happened, I could be released from my own burdens, guilt, and self-doubt.

Ya, that didn’t go so well…

I was blamed and shamed. I was literally told, “You must have done something to signal you were open to his advances.” And, “Well Michael, you must have wanted those attentions somehow, after all, you kept going back.”

Later, I wanted the piano I had practiced all those years removed from the house. Yes, Grandma had given me the piano. She had been a piano teacher herself. And, she had studied at the Chicago Conservatory, same as my piano teacher. But, I didn’t want that reminder staring me in the face everytime I visited home.

It took a year of fighting and recriminations before Mom finally agreed to sell my piano. And, I can’t help feeling as though it was something she resented the rest of her life. She always wanted a piano in her home. She felt it was absolutely unnecessary to sell the piano, after all, I could choose which memories to keep…

This is a great exhibit. I regret I didn’t know about it when it was at the University of Iowa. I would have visited, and likely would have cried the whole time. Not so much out of sorrow for what happened to me, but instead in empathy for all the different victims this display represents.

Sexual assault victims didn’t invite their abuse, they didn’t invent their abuse. What they were wearing never mattered…

It’s not the clothing that causes sexual violence, it’s the person who causes harm. Being able to find that peace for survivors and that moment of awareness for communities is the real motivation behind the project. Jen Brockman

Director, Kansas University Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center

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About The Author

Michael Samadhi

Michael Samadhi - Joy of Kink Editor - author, lifestyle dominant, sex blogger, sex educator, photographer, artist, pansexual, sapiosexual, polyamorist, audiophile, historian, pagan/Buddhist, former political activist, and community organizer. I tied up a girlfriend (consensually) the first time back in 1980, and it's been a hell of a ride ever since.

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Cara ThereonMichael SamadhiJen Brockman Recent comment authors

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Jen Brockman
Jen Brockman

Thank you for your article and sharing your story. We are working on putting a list and calendar together of other communities who have committed to hosting the Installation. University of Iowa is one again, they are going to put it up in in October 2017. Keep your eyes out for marketing from RVAP on the specific dates and location.

Cara Thereon

So brave of you to share. It’s definitely about power and never about what you’re wearing.



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