By Ashley Wilson
Special to The PREVIEW
The question, “What were you wearing?” is asked often of survivors of sexual assault, as if the clothes themselves are what cause rape. Victims are asked this by law enforcement, co-workers, bosses, friends and family. When someone chooses to report or share their assault, this question plants blame firmly on the shoulder of the person who has been harmed and violated. But who is really to blame? The person to blame is the rapist, the assailant, the person who chose to harm someone else. This, along with much of how we speak about rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, blame the victim.
Rise Above Violence in partnership with the Pagosa Springs Arts Council and ABOA Gallery and Lounge, bring to you a powerful exhibit that answers the question, “What were you wearing?” Originally planned as a gallery show at ABOA Gallery, COVID-19 has pushed us to move this online. Each piece will be posted to social media over the next week (first exhibit went up yesterday, April 15). Each of the outfits is created based on a survivor’s story; they all offered a few sentence description of what they were wearing to go along with the outfit. As you view the show take in for a second the “normal” clothes, the everyday circumstances and the average person who is sharing. This show is meant to dispel the myth that what a victim was wearing had anything to do with their assault.
Language is used every day to blame victims. It is in news headlines, “Women raped after drinking too much at local bar,” or “Woman walking alone was raped in park”; it is in the jokes people find funny, it is in the conversations and language people use every day. Victim blaming is when women are cautioned to not walk by themselves, to carry whistles on campus, to watch their drinks, and the many other things they are told in order to keep themselves safe.
Don’t think that men are immune; there is more silence around sexual assault of men than women; this is born out of the misguided masculinity that would tell boys and men that they can’t be raped by a woman, and the shame that comes if they are raped by another man. It is prevalent in media, movies, music and society itself. It tells the victims there was something they should have done differently, something they could have changed to avoid being assaulted.
So, what do we do? First, believe survivors. Don’t ask them what they were wearing or how many drinks they had; believe and listen. Be aware of those headlines and media influence, read past that to the pain of the person involved. Ask other questions, like who was the assailant? Challenge that type of language when you hear it. Real change comes when a community puts enough pressure that it becomes unacceptable, even to joke about. Participate. Participate with Rise to bring light to an issue that is surrounded in darkness. Join with us as we bring you the “What were you wearing?” gallery, share the posts and end the silence with us.
You can join the other events Rise has this month as well.
Friday, April 24, at 6 p.m.: Seventh annual Push Up Challenge. This year’s event will be hosted on Google Hangout Meet. All competitors will sign up at GoFundMe Charity, your platform to raise funds for Rise during this annual campaign. Categories will be limited this year to Individual Female and Individual Male. We also added a youth category for any of our students who would like to participate.
Wednesday, April 29, is Denim Day. What is Denim Day? It is a symbolic gesture of solidarity against sexual violence. Participate in our social media event and be entered for a prize. Post a picture in your denim with a caption of why you wear jeans or who you are wearing jeans for. Post a video of you taking a walk in your jeans and get two entries.
By participating with Rise in this month’s activities, you are giving voice to victims in our community and making a clear statement that sexual violence will not be accepted in Pagosa.
Rise is a nonprofit organization which promotes the belief that all people have the right to live free from violence. Rise provides 24-hour support and advocacy services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or other forms of violence, serving over 350 victims each year. Rise also works to eliminate violence through education for youth and our community. All programs and services are free and confidential including emergency prevention education and empowerment programs. Visit www.riseaboveviolence.org for more information or call 264- 9075 to talk to an advocate today.