Exhibit on Sexual Assault Answers the Question “What Were You Wearing?”

Friday, October 27, 2017
What Were You Wearing exhibit

“What Were You Wearing?” an exhibit opening in the Massman Gallery on Monday, Oct. 30, aims to combat a persistent myth that sexual violence is caused by what someone is wearing at the time of the assault.

Throughout the week, “What Were You Wearing?” will be on display from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Massman gallery. Built on more than 18 personal stories of sexual assault victims from other campuses, each narrative is accompanied by recreations of the outfits they were wearing at the time of their assault, ranging from dresses to T-shirts and sweatpants:

“It was a night shirt. I had gotten up to get a drink of water and a friend of a friend was crashing on our couch. I play that night over and over in my mind. If I had just gotten a drink from the bathroom sink instead or hadn’t woken him up when I walked through the living room.”

Some of the items are children’s clothing from stories shared about earlier in the students’ lives: “My favorite yellow shirt, but I don’t remember what pants I was wearing. I remember being so confused and just wanting to leave my brother’s room and go back to watching my cartoons.”

Sponsored by the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Task Force, Voices for Justice, PEERS, Greek Life and Rockhurst University athletics, “What Were You Wearing?” originated in a temporary display at the University of Arkansas. The exhibit has since traveled to a number of universities in Kansas and Iowa. Inspired by the poem “What I Was Wearing” by Mary Simmerling, the exhibit originally created by Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, Ph.D., aims to tackle one of the prevailing myths about sexual assault, which is that individuals invite their own victimhood through their dress or their behavior.

“This exhibit attempts to shatter the myth that somehow clothing can be the cause of a sexual assault and shift the blame off the victim and put it on the person who caused the harm,” said Kimberly Brant King, University director of compliance and risk management.

Given that the exhibit could have for some an extremely personal impact, King said alongside the display will be information on support resources both on campus and from the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, as well as a diary for visitors to write anonymously about their own experience, should they choose.

“What Were You Wearing?” is one part of a broad University effort to combat sexual violence, King said. Last year, the University was a recipient of a grant from the Heartland Sexual Assault Policies and Prevention on Campuses Project to develop policies for and raise awareness of sexual assault. In addition, Rockhurst is a part of the Green Dot bystander training initiative. King said the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Task Force, a wide-ranging group composed of student, faculty and staff representatives, was created to examine and evaluate current prevention practices and education efforts and implement concrete recommendations for furthering our prevention efforts.

Underscoring the need for that goal is “What Were You Wearing?” and its personal message on the individual impact of sexual assault.

“We hope that it will be a powerful experience for our community and incite some passion for further awareness and participation in prevention efforts,” King said of the exhibit. “The goal is to have students not only look at the exhibit and think about the experiences they might have had, but also to connect to the victims of assault.”