Peace of Mind: Sexual assault prevention exhibit shows how asking 'What were you wearing' blames victims

Peace of Mind: Sexual assault prevention exhibit shows how asking 'What were you wearing' blames victims
National "What were you wearing?" sexual assault exhibit travels to Ivy Tech Community College - Southwest. (WFIE)

EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - "What were you wearing?" These four words seem so simple, yet they carry a heavy impact.

Experts say asking a sexual assault victim what he or she was wearing encourages blaming that victim. A national sexual assault prevention exhibit has traveled to Evansville to defy sex abuse myths.

Inside the art installation at Ivy Tech Community College - Southwest, the silence screams with impact. A dozen outfits float around the room, matched with stories of sexual assault.

Each story is rooted in the question victims are asked, "What were you wearing?"

"It encourages victim blaming," explained Ivy Tech Mental Health Counselor Renee Rockers. "We want to challenge that myth. Regardless of what someone is wearing, they are the one who is the victim. They are not the one who brought that on themselves."

The inspiration for the exhibit began with a poem by Dr. Mary Simmerling called "What I was wearing."

The exhibit was first displayed at the University of Arkansas in 2013. It gained a lot of national attention during its display at Kansas University in 2017. That's when Rockers heard about it and started working to bring it to Ivy Tech.

As part of the project, survivors are offered support.

"We want to allow them to come in and maybe see some of their stories reflected and feel supported and give them an opportunity to share their story as well as get help from either on campus or community agencies," says Rockers.

Albion Fellows Bacon Center is a partner in this initiative. They say this exhibit serves as a reminder that abuse knows no bounds.

"As you walk in, you really get a look at the diversity that occurs. We know sexual violence doesn't discriminate however so often people think it does, so when I walk in I see ordinary people in these clothing items," says Albion Fellows Community Engagement Director Rachel Herr.

The exhibit has a quiet space dedicated for survivors to share their stories.

"It also helps those people who are victims feel validated and feel heard and feel that I'm not the only one as they read these stories. They can probably find a similar story to theirs and know this isn't just me. It's so important for individuals who are overcoming an assault or act of violence," says Herr.

The exhibit is free and open to the public. It will stay at Ivy Tech in room 107 through Friday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but on Friday it will end at 4 p.m.

You can also check it out next week at the University of Evansville.

The University of Southern Indiana plans to host it in April during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Albion offers services around the clock.


Domestic Violence: 1-812-422-5622

Sexual Assault: 1-812-424-7273

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