“What were you wearing?”
One of the many questions sexual assault victims and survivors face, this statement of victim-blaming is why the survivor exhibit at Colony Square exists.
Various organizations in Manhattan that support victims and survivors of sexual assault help put together the “What Were You Wearing?’ exhibit each April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The exhibit displays several outfits, along with survivors’ stories clipped on the various clothing. From black slacks and basketball shorts to an arrangement of pajamas, these were the clothes people wore at the time of their assault.
The Crisis Center, Kansas State Center for Advocacy, Response and Education (CARE), Forensic Nursing Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), Riley County Attorney’s office, Riley County Police Department and Military Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) all sponsored the event this year.
“The hope is that just through awareness and hosting the exhibit is that we could reach more people with information about services, but also begin those conversations in the community about sexual assault,” Kathy Ray, executive director of the Crisis Center, said. “It happens here in our community and it is kind of a collaborative effort to show we support victims and survivors.”
Survivors and victims of sexual assault face many struggles after telling their stories, and it is often a difficult process.
“You know, a lot of people who’ve experienced sexual assault don’t want to share their story because of fear or because just a lot of shame and guilt that’s attached to it, and there’s a lot of victim-blaming that happens around sexual assault and rape, which is also one of the points of the exhibit,” Ray said. “One of those is rape culture, so what the victim was wearing, who they were with and what they were doing having something to do with the assault.”
According to a U.S. Department of Justice analysis in 2016 on violent crimes, nearly 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported. Services like the Crisis Center try to help with services and advocacy teams.
“The Crisis Center is a community-based victim advocacy organization, and so all of our services are completely free and confidential,” Ray said. “So even though we partner with these other entities, we don’t share information back and forth with them.”
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Victims and survivors of sexual assault can reach out to the Crisis Center for services, with a 24-hour hotline number [1-800-727-2785] and more services available on the center’s website.
Another organization available is CARE. Students, faculty and staff can access this service, and there is no need to set up appointments. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.
“My job is to meet with people who have experienced sexual violence or interpersonal violence, that’s really the main objective of our office,” Stephanie Foran, interim assistant director for CARE, said. “Everything we do is confidential, so no one is ever going to be required to report to law enforcement or to the university, so I think a lot of people are kind of happy with that: it makes it a little easier for them to come forward.”
Foran said that the CARE office previously hosted the “What Were You Wearing” exhibit on campus for two years but had to stop because of the pandemic.
“I’m really glad that it’s still happening because I think it’s such an important cause, and I really like that it challenges a lot of the victim-blaming statements that we hear,” Foran said. “…you know, ‘Were you drinking?’ ‘Why did you go out with them if you didn’t want to hook up afterwards?’ and ‘What were you wearing?'”
The CARE office is busy in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, hosting events to support the community and spread awareness.
“We have a lot of different things going on. Our convention specialist, Jessica Henault, is doing a lot as far as tabling, we are doing a menstrual product drive, we’re doing a big collaboration for Denim Day at the end of the month and we also are co-sponsors for the ‘What were you wearing?’ exhibit,” Foran said.
More information about CARE and its services is available on the K-State CARE website, and information on events is available in the CARE office in Holton 206.