Survivor Installation draws reflective comments

By 
Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, February 13, 2020
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Photos by Alastair Baker
Don Redfoot views some of the clothing and stories at the ‘What Were You Wearing?’ Survivor Art Installation’ an exhibition held through February at the Carbon County Arts Guild & Depot Gallery, Red Lodge.

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What were you wearing? “A sundress. Months later, my mother would stand in front of my closet and complain about how I never wore any of my dresses anymore. I was six years old.”

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What were you wearing? “A university t-shirt and cargoes. It’s funny; no one has ever asked me that before. They ask me if being raped means I’m gay or if I fought back or how I could ‘let this happen to me,’ but never about my clothes.”

“It is very disturbing but very real,” said Mitzi Vorachek after having just reviewed a survivor art installation at the Carbon County Arts Guild & Depot Gallery.

Throughout February the Guild will feature the ‘What Were You Wearing?’ Survivor Art Installation’ an exhibition focusing on demystifying the concept that people are sexually abused because of what they were wearing.

 

“This can happen to anybody at any time,” said Vorachek. “It is disturbing but really worth seeing because it illustrates what women deal with.”

 

The exhibit has been brought to Red Lodge by the Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in partnership with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center-University of Kansas, Lawrence.

 

The ‘What Were You Wearing? Installation’ was developed in 2013 by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert and was influenced by the poem, “What I Was Wearing” written by Dr. Mary Simmerling. The concept of the installation is to debunk the myth that alluring clothing is at the center of the issue, a myth that usually results in the survivors being blamed for the attack and perpetrators being justified. 

 

The stories utilized for the project were donated by survivors and are used with their consent. Clothing in the installation is not the actual clothing worn by the survivor; they are recreations of the stories that were donated.

"My greatest hope is that people understand asking victims what they were wearing or what their state of mind might have been, is irrelevant. Sexual assault is never a victim's fault. The stigma of these questions silences survivors. We should instead be asking the perpetrators why they chose to violate another person. And we should be asking each other why our society allows rapists to escape justice,” said Kelly Heaton, Executive Director DSVS.

 

Hayden Ramsey, DSVS Office Coordinator, said the response by the public “has been very reflective, very powerful.”

 

 

“People are struck by it, especially the child’s sundress. It leaves people speechless but overall the impact intended by the exhibit comes through,” said Ramsey. “They are just ordinary clothes, ordinary people who have had extraordinary events and extraordinary stories to tell and it doesn’t matter what the victim-survivor was wearing. Sexual assault can happen to anyone.”

 

Ramsey explained the clothes have been kept “somewhat androgynous because people all across the gender spectrum are affected by sexual assault and now we know that people in the trans community are affected in higher numbers and so it is important to keep it as open to interpretation as possible.”

 

“The cliché ‘you were asking for it’, or ‘cover-up you’ll be safe’ when it comes to sexual assault and sexual violence none of those things matter,” said Ramsey. “What goes on is power, someone leveraging their power over another person so it doesn’t matter what you are wearing, where you were. We can all do things to keep ourselves safe just in a general sense however sexual assault is always about power over another person. It is not even sexual, the crime is sexual, but the motivation is not.”

 

Also present at the Guild was Steve Muth who likened the installation to the response given by female defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, for alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein.

"When asked if she had been sexually assaulted she (Rotunno) replied, ‘No I have never been sexually assaulted' but then again she said she had never put herself in a position to be so," said Steve Muth. 

"I call that luck,” he said.

“You look at all these pieces of clothing. These women putting themselves in a position to be assaulted is just a gross misunderstanding of what happens. I am happy to see this exhibit,” he said.

 

“It shows it doesn’t matter what you are wearing,” said Don Redfoot, another attendee.

 

“It is a question of power. It is not only women. If you see the one with the gym shorts and the MSU-B shirt you don’t know what gender it is. It is an act of power over somebody else. And it is very sobering to see this,” said Deb Muth.

 

“Well, it’s really covered up in our society," said Steve Muth.

Red Lodge High School students will be attending the installation during the course of the month.

For further information on the installation please visit www.carboncountydepotgallery.org or call the Guild at (406) 446-1370.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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