Powerful Exhibit Shows that Clothing ≠ Consent

The Outfits of Survivors Photo by: Maggie Alvarez

“A place to dispel the myth that clothing gives any type of consent,” described Katie McGrath, the senior who curated the exhibit “What I was Wearing” which displayed in the SU Gallery last week. A walk through the space revealed different forms of attire hanging on the walls: business casual, club dresses, sweatpants a T-shirt, and even clothing meant for children. These clothes represented those that survivors wore when they were sexually assaulted. “It’s one thing to hear the statistics,” said McGrath. “To actually see the outfits and hear stories of specific survivors is extremely powerful.”

Beside each outfit was a short passage from an anonymous survivor about their experience. The outfits hung on the walls were not from the survivor’s actual closet; the pieces were collected by members of the WRC according to the submissions sent in by survivors to mimic the outfits as closely as possible.

The coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) Riah Safady, was initially apprehensive as to what the response would be toward the exhibit with its powerful, if intimidating message. “To be honest, I was afraid that the gallery was maybe too heavy,” She said, having installed it over Spring break. “It’s super intense. I left feeling extremely emotionally drained and sad.”

The Outfits of Survivors Photo by: Maggie Alvarez

Knowing that the exhibit’s message was too important to ignore, Safaday explained, “In order for us to best interact with, serve, educate, and support our community here at Southern Oregon, we need to be able to recognize how prevalent sexual and intimate partner violence is in our society”

The gallery marked the beginning of  Sexual Assault Awareness Month throughout which the WRC will plan and put on events to spread awareness and support victims of sexual violence. Sean Carter, the lead of the Sexual Wellness Anti-Violence Education (SWAVE) team for the WRC, wondered, “How do we expect to end rape culture if we don’t talk about it.”  

When the gallery closed, the WRC sent a couple of the outfits and survivor stories downtown to the Survivor’s Art Show at the Ashland Arts Center. On the last day of the gallery, Carter contemplated, “I hope we changed a few hearts and minds. I hope we let someone know that it is okay to share their story, and know that it’s not their fault. I hope people stop blaming victims. I hope that people learn to question the norms society has taught them” The WRC has more events planned throughout April including: screening the film, Mysterious Skin with the Queer Resource Center (QRC), participating in Denim Day on Apr. 25 to show support for victims of sexual violence, and attending final event on Apr. 27 where keynote speaker Timothy Jones will speak about his experience as a sexual assault victim. Later on that night, the WRC invites people to join them as they march downtown to celebrate Take Back the Night, a national day of awareness.

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