An art installation titled “What were you wearing?” was on display from Nov. 6-10 in the upper level of the Student Union at Barton Community College, in the lobby of the Barton County Courthouse and at the Great Bend Public Library. The show became a reality thanks to the hard work of Tanya Day, the Outreach Program Coordinator at the Family Crisis Center of Great Bend and Title IX Coordinator Cheryl Brown at Barton Community College.
“What Were You Wearing?” originated from the Rape Education Services by Peers Encouraging Conscious Thought (RESPECT) Program at the University of Arkansas in 2013. It was created by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert.
The project was inspired by the poem “What I was wearing” by Dr. Mary Simmerling. Student-Survivors voluntarily contributed brief descriptions of what they were wearing when they experienced sexual violence. Outfits displayed in the installation are not the actual clothing worn by the survivors, but a visual representation of their stories.
“Most of these (outfits) are so ordinary,” Brown said. “One of the myths about sexual assault is that women are blamed for it because of what they were wearing when they were attacked. It is an attempt to shift the burden of blame from the accused to the victim. It is rapists who cause rape, not clothes. Even if you had the shortest, tightest dress in the world, that dress cannot consent. ”
Day agreed with Brown’s statement about this harmful myth.
“As a society we often victim-blame and we need to start shifting that blame back on the perpetrator or abuser,” Day said.
The goal is to respond to the phrase “she was asking for it” by showing viewers how normal and average the clothing these victims wore when they were raped. Another purpose is to dispel another myth: that only women can be raped. Men can be and are sexually assaulted every day. “What Were You Wearing?” allowed participants to reflect on the experiences of the survivors and the irrelevance of their outfits.
“This is a community awareness event,” Day said. “One in four women and one in ten men will be a victim of sexual violence at some time in their life. It can affect you, even if you are just a family member or friend of a victim.”
Brown is extremely thankful for all the help she had in bringing this event to Barton County.
“We are very grateful to Jen Brockman of the University of Kansas Sexual Assault Prevention & Education Center, to Tanya and Jessica and everyone at the Family Crisis Center, and to all those who helped set up, gather clothes and did all the myriad tasks that made this possible,” Brown said.
The Family Crisis Center of Great Bend is a free confidential agency available to help survivors and victims through healing and moving forward. The Family Crisis Center is located across the street from the Barton County courthouse at 1924 Broadway Avenue, Great Bend. A 24-hour toll-free crisis line is also available at 866-792-1885.