‘What Were You Wearing?’ exhibit opens again on KU campus for sexual assault awareness month

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Two of the new outfits displayed in the "What Were You Wearing?" exhibit in the Kansas Union Gallery on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

As part of sexual assault awareness month, an exhibit that challenges the idea that victims’ clothes lead to assaults returned to the University of Kansas this week.

The exhibit known as “What Were You Wearing?” opened in the Kansas Union Gallery on Tuesday as part of the the KU Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center’s April programming. This month’s display of the installation will be the third time the exhibit has opened on the KU campus.

Jen Brockman, director of the center, said the exhibit was a collection of re-created stories from sexual assault survivors told through displays of clothing and brief statements from victims. She said the purpose was to erase the fallacy that certain clothing was responsible for sex crimes.

“What we’ve heard in the past from (people) who come into this space is a little bit of surprise when they recognize the clothing is similar to something they own or wear on a daily basis,” Brockman said. “It very much removes that element of blame that somehow an outfit can cause someone to commit violence.”

Brockman helped create the installation in 2014 when she was working at the University of Arkansas, but it first received national attention when she brought it to KU in 2017.

While some pieces on display this year have been shown in the past, the installation includes many new pieces telling the stories of victims who shared their experiences with the KU program over the last two years, Brockman said. A designated area in the gallery will allow visitors to continue to donate their own stories if they would like to.

The opening of the installation coincides with the national sexual assault awareness month theme “I Ask.” While the theme mostly advocates for sexual partners to establish verbal consent, Brockman said the KU community was also using it more broadly.

“It’s not only how I ask for consent but how I ask for my institution to do better, how I ask my community to respond to sexual violence, and also I ask people who cause harm to be held accountable,” Brockman said.

A public reception for the exhibit’s opening is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Kansas Union Gallery. The reception is part of the center’s month-long programming for sexual assault awareness month. A full list of events can be found on the center’s event website, sapec.ku.edu/sexual-assault-activism-month

The Kansas Union Gallery is on the fourth floor of KU’s Memorial Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd. Access to the exhibit is free and open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. until April 26.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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