James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University, Bridgewater College, Collins Center collaborate for Sexual Assault Awareness Month displays.

newspaperSexual violence happens everywhere, and no community is immune to it. This April, a local partnership will provide visual displays with the goal of raising public awareness about sexual violence and educating communities on how to prevent it.

The “What Were You Wearing?” Survivor Art Installation originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013. Created by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert, the project was inspired by Dr. Mary Simmerling’s poem, “What I Was Wearing”. The installation allows participants to see themselves reflected in not only the outfits, but also the stories. This realization moves us away from blaming the victim for violence and places responsibility where it belongs: on those who caused the harm.

“It is our hope that survivors who experience the installations feel heard, believed, and know that the assault was not their fault, and that all who attend might begin to see the absurdity of the question, ‘What were you wearing?’ after an assault” said Jackie Hieber, JMU’s Assistant Director for Sexual Violence Prevention and Survivor Advocacy.

Each location will feature a different display with narratives from real survivors describing what they were wearing and what they experienced. Although the items displayed are not the actual clothes worn, they match the narratives to give a visual impact to the viewer. “Sexual violence has far more to do with a person’s need to assert power and control over another than it does with the clothing worn by the harmed individual. However, the question of ‘what were you wearing?’ persists as one of the most victim-blaming questions we hear,” said Rhoda Miller, Crisis Response Coordinator at the Collins Center.

While this is the Collins Center’s 22nd Annual Sexual Violence Awareness Art Exhibit, this is the first installation of its kind and the first year the agency has collaborated with local universities. “Bridgewater College is eager to participate in this unique exhibit. Education and prevention are a top priority for our institution and our hope is that this installation brings awareness to the many victim blaming attitudes that are pervasive in our society,” said Liz Howley, Wellness Education Director at BC.

Tempest Anderson, Director of Counseling Services at EMU agrees: “We are honored to be a part of this project. With the recent awarding of a grant to bring awareness to and decrease gender-based violence on college campuses it is our goal to be involved in bringing light to this issue.” EMU was recently awarded a $300,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Grants to Reduce Sexual Violence, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus” program.

The installations will be open to visitors at various times throughout the month of April beginning on April 4 at EMU’s Hartzler Library. The Collins Center’s exhibit will begin with an Opening Reception on April 6 from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the Frame Factory in downtown Harrisonburg and Bridgewater College and JMU’s exhibits both begin on April 9. They are all open to the public.


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