What Were You Wearing? Survivor Art Installation

By Mary Kate Wirfel

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and, on April 16 and 17, Hilbert College hosted an art installation relating to sexual assault survivors titled What Were You Wearing?

This exhibit featured clothes similar to the outfits that were worn by sexual assault survivors along with the heartrending stories of what happened. This installation was created to raise awareness about victim blaming and how it’s not the victims’ fault because of the clothes they were wearing.

Clothes were hung on walls in the West Herr atrium along with signs quoting each survivor and how they were sexually assaulted. The stories were heartwrenching, particularly those of two children ages 5 and 7.

The first Installation was displayed at the University of Arkansas in 2014. A version of the exhibit was installed at the University of Kansas, and at the University of Florida.

From the Installation notes:


At a conference on May 24, 2013, Dr. Mary Wyandt-Heibert (University of Arkansas) and Ms. Jen Brockman (University of Kansas) received the poem titled “What I Was Wearing,” by Dr. Mary Simmerling copyrighted in 2005. Inspired by that poem, Wyandt-Heibert and Brockman developed the What Were You Wearing Survivor Art Installation. The first Installation was displayed at the University of Arkansas in 2014.

Installation Intent

The Installation was born out of an advocacy lens. The question “what were you wearing?” was pervasive for most survivors. The project’s intent is to place the work of bearing witness to this question’s answer back on the shoulders of the community. To ask the question “What were you wearing?” costs the questioner nothing; there is no labor in making this statement. However, the survivor must pay dearly, not only in their answer but also in the burden of self- blame.

The Installation asks participants to understand that it was never about the clothing and that the act of shedding those clothes is never enough to bring peace or comfort to survivors. The violation is not simply woven into the fabric of the material, it is a part of the survivor’s new narrative. If only ending sexual violence was as easy as changing our clothes. Instead, it requires all of us to evaluate what enabled us as individuals and as a society to ask, “what were you wearing?” in the first place.

To learn more

For more information on accommodations, remedies, and resources available to survivors, please contact Katie Martoche, Title IX Coordinator at kmartoche@hilbert.edu, 716-926-8819, or Franciscan Hall 108. Information and resources can also be found online at www.hilbert.edu/share.



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