April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and Pitt State’s Students for Violence Prevention (SVP) have been programming events throughout the month to bring awareness and provide resources about sexual assault.
An art exhibit called “What Were You Wearing?” has been on display from April 9 to 11 in the U-Club located in the Overman Student Center. The exhibit, which displays clothing articles inspired by real-life outfits of people who were raped or sexually assaulted in them, seeks to debunk the myth that people are raped or sexually assaulted based on what they wear.
“The exhibit, it really to help people visibly look at the myth that we hear that’s readily shared and repeated all the time of ‘Well, what you were wearing?’ is an excuse to be assaulted, and so we wanted to show different genders, shapes, sizes of what that actually looks like in society,” said Stephanie Spitz, campus victim advocate and co-advisor of SVP. “Nobody would tell a child ‘Oh, of course you were molested or sexually assaulted because you were wearing a sundress’, or ‘Because you were wearing those cargo shorts’, like no one would say that to a child so why are they saying that to adults?”
The clothing articles on the display ranged from khakis and a dress shirt to a night gown and a young girl’s sundress. Anonymous accounts of what they were wearing and a brief description of the incident accompanied each outfit..
The outfits displayed were not the actual outfits described but were inspired by the stories.
“The (clothing) are inspired from them,” Spitz said. “So, these aren’t the actual clothing but given from the descriptions or the items of clothing we had donated for the display.”
By the display, there was a box where people had the option to anonymously submit their own story of sexual assault or rape and what they were wearing.
“Some of them are (from PSU), and some of them are stories from KU as well,” Spitz said. “Since this is a fairly new exhibit and people haven’t shared many of their stories, so we would like to build more only if they’re comfortable and only it’s part of their healing and recovery process. We wanted to make sure we had a place where people felt comfortable enough where they could share their story and add it into the display as well.”
Spitz said it was important to have a variety of articles of clothing because “violence doesn’t discriminate.”
“… It’s never that victims’ fault for being sexually assaulted,” Spitz said. “It doesn’t matter what they were wearing, it doesn’t matter if they were drinking or not, it doesn’t matter if they were walking alone at night or not… none of those reasons are valid reasons for why someone is sexually assaulted. So, we really wanted to break that very harmful message and stereotype down and give people a place where they can process that, and not only process that but get educated a little bit more and be able to break that and not say that anymore and gather information that they can take back.”
Accompanying the display was an SVP table with various resources about sexual assault and violence, as a large part of the display was to “raise awareness and also give support and education.”
“We’d like to start the conversation in a few different ways, and sometimes art speaks more than words can which is why we wanted to do that,” Spitz said. “I think we realized that and will utilize that in different places and formats too, so that was our intention and it was really important for us to do that but also have trigger warnings on there, content warnings, and resources. I’ve been through there three times today, kind of checking in and making sure people were OK and talking to them.”
Spitz believes the topic of sexual assault and how it relates to the myth of it being dependent on one’s clothing is important.
“I think it’s incredibly important to talk about these myths that are still running rampant in our community and in our culture and in our world,” she said. “…what people were wearing does not excuse sexual assault, you can’t blame people for their rapes… having these conversations and helping people become more aware and educate them a little bit so they’re not adding to these rape culture myths. I think it’s’ incredibly important and we’re going to keep having them until we get them right, and until facts are what run rampant and not these very, very damaging and harmful myths.”
Spitz said she hopes the display was a learning opportunity for those who viewed it.
“I hope what people take away from the exhibit is an ‘aha’ moment perhaps, maybe to change that readily accepted myth that we have there, to have people think a little deeper, to have people empathize more with survivors..,” said Spitz. “I really hope at the end of the day they feel empowered to stop that from continuing to be spread but also they feel hope for the movement of the future.”