One of the most infuriating and damaging things often asked of rape victims is, “What were you wearing?”. As though clothing, however revealing, begs violent assault on its wearer. As though the answer should in any way affect the degree of sympathy offered. Even asked innocuously (although, it is arguably inherently vicious) it discredits and places blame on the victim rather than the assailer. Undoubtedly, this question perpetuates rape culture.
This is the logic behind a new exhibit in Belgium. “What were you wearing?” was installed by prevention service Molenbeek at the Centre Communautaire Maritime in Brussels and features clothing items replicated from those worn by actual rape victims at the time of their assault. The point is to disprove the myth that provocative clothing incites rape, featuring items such as pajamas, tracksuits, and— most disturbing— a child’s My Little Pony shirt.
Molenbeek opened the instillation to “create a tangible response to one of our most pervasive rape culture myths” because “The belief that clothing or what someone what wearing ’causes’ rape is extremely damaging for survivors.”
According to Lieshbeth Kennes, a training and counselling employee of CAW, who spoke to VRT1 Radio, “What you immediately notice when you walk around here is they are all very normal pieces that everyone would wear.” And, referencing the My Little Pony shirt, Kennes states: “The exhibition is also a harsh reality: most victims of rape still know exactly what they were wearing at the time.”
A similar art project was created in 2013 by Jen Brockman Dr. Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert of the University of Kansas. “Participants can come into the gallery and see themselves reflected in not only the outfits, but also in the stories,” Brockman told The Huffington Post.