“What Were You Wearing?” Exhibit Recreates The Outfits Of Rape Survivors


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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — An art exhibit closing this month at the Bundy Museum in Binghamton displays about a dozen ordinary outfits, but it comes with a content warning: “this installation contains descriptions of sexual violence. Please practice self-care as needed.”

What Were You Wearing? exhibit at the Bundy Museum in Binghamton. (Sarah Gager/WSKG).

“What Were You Wearing?” recreates outfits from the stories of survivors. It’s what they were wearing at the time they were raped.

Dara Raboy is the coordinator of the 20:1 prevention program at Binghamton University and facilitated the exhibit. 20:1 refers to a 2004 statistic that 20 women in the U.S. were sexually assaulted every hour.

People who are assaulted tend to blame themselves, but only the rapist is responsible.

“There’s only one person for this crime, and so, there is nothing that a person says or does or anything that puts them to blame.” It is not anything they were wearing.

The installation is inspired by a poem written by Mary Simmerling titled What I was Wearing. 

if only it were so simple

if only we could

end rape

by simply changing our clothes.

This is a traveling exhibit and is part of a larger project that collects survivor stories. Among outfits at the Bundy range from a blue T-shirt and jeans to a prom dress. One person was attacked while wearing an Army combat uniform and carrying their weapon.

Sometimes people are in such shock during an attack that they freeze.

“Like ‘is this really happening?’ It’s a whole—there are so many psychological components that happen that having a gun on you doesn’t ensure your safety in these situations.” Raboy added that over 80 percent of the time people are assaulted by someone they know and trusted.

One outfit at the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit was displayed in a bag. The accompanying story says the survivor kept the outfit in a plastic bag, just in case they wanted to report the assault. Plastic bags can retain evidence for a short period of time. (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

Everyone reacts to assault in their own way.

There was one outfit that could be easily missed. It’s contained by a plastic bag sitting on a chair. The survivor kept the clothes in case they wanted to report it.

A plastic bag, not paper, can preserve evidence, but only for a short period of time. Preserving evidence may go against someone’s natural instinct.

“They have to shower, they have to throw things out, and they have to wash things. And sort of wash away this trauma,” Raboy said, calling the person who saved their clothes “very brave.”

The Crime Victims Assistance Center recommends not showering to retain evidence

Another story said they were never asked what they were wearing at the time of their assault. Instead, they were asked if they were gay, if they fought back, and how they could let that happen to them. According to Raboy, that’s a common reaction, especially if a man’s attacker was another man, and a barrier keeping men from reporting. She expects the rate of assault is much higher in men than is reported.

Reporting can be difficult, but CVAC offers support. The crisis line number is (607) 722-4256. Raboy said when you decide to tell someone, be sure it is someone who will keep you safe and be sensitive to your trauma. Not someone who will ask “What Were You Wearing?”