What were you wearing? The simple question strikes at the heart of one of the most persistent myths around rape. And it’s now the subject of a new exhibit in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, Belgium.
The installation—aptly titled “What were you wearing that day?”—poignantly recreates the clothes worn by survivors of sexual violence when they were attacked. The exhibition consists of 18 outfits, which were put together based on the description given by survivors of sexual assault from Kansas University, which held a similar exhibition in September last year. The clothes include pajamas, tracksuit bottoms, and dresses, and each is accompanied by a note by the survivor on the attack.
Sometimes when survivors of sexual assault come forward, they’re asked what they wore when they were attacked. Women’s right advocates have criticized asking such a question because it implies that the clothes in some way brought the assault on the wearer. The exhibit hopes to make one simple, yet important rebuttal: Women are not to blame for ”provoking” sexual assault. It does so by showcasing that people wearing everyday clothes, like jeans and a t-shirt, are still sexually assaulted.
“We want to destroy the stereotypes about rape culture with this exhibit,” says Yasmina El Moutouk, a project manager at Molenbeek’s social services. “We all have jeans and t-shirts in our wardrobe and the most important thing is we are free to wear what we want.”
The installation comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement, where women across the globe have forward with their stories of sexual assault and abuse. The powerful reckoning on sexual assault, sparked by the toppling of the infamous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, has taken down powerful men in a range of industries as stories of their assaults or harassment have emerged.
“This question ‘what were you wearing?’ is a universal question no matter where you live,” El Moutouk explains. “It is important for us to remind people that this question is useless and harmful for the victims.”
The exhibit is being held from January 8th to 20th at the Martime Community Centre in Molenbeek.