WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (April 21, 2021) – In support of Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month, White Sands Missile Range has a “What Were You Wearing?” Survivor Art Installation on display at the Army Community Service building. The exhibition is open April 19 through April 22 and is a part of several knowledge-sharing events reiterating the Army's intolerance for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and associated retaliatory behaviors.
The art exhibit contains actual descriptions of the clothing worn by sexual violence survivors with examples of their clothing based on their descriptions. At White Sands Missile Range, the display includes over ten outfits, each with its own unique story.
Universities and other organizations around the world set up similar exhibitions. The goal is to stop self-blame, which occurs when people ask questions like ‘what were you wearing?’ to sexual violence survivors.
“It is not about what you are wearing, and that is not a question we should be asking. It's about the motive of the other individual and why they are assaulting you,” said Linda Crosby, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at White Sands Missile Range. “If a person drinks or wears certain clothes that does not give permission for another individual to treat them differently or violate them.”
The display was inspired by a poem entitled, ‘What I was Wearing,’ by Mary Simmerling. The poem goes into detail about what Simmerling was wearing the night she was raped in 1987. In the poem, she describes her outfit efficiently because of the number of times she was asked about it. At the end of the poem, she mentions that she also remembers what her attacker was wearing, although nobody ever asked her.
“In 2013, the first exhibition based on the poem was shown in Arkansas; our SHARP program has done it for several years,” said Crosby. “We use the concept and the display to support those who have been affected by sexual violence. It is also a reminder for people that it is never about what you are wearing, what you said, or if you are drinking alcohol."
All the outfits on display vary, from sweats, shorts, jeans, and dresses to T-shirts, professional attire, and baseball caps. It reiterates the notion that what sexual violence survivors were wearing when attacked does not matter.
One of the anonymous responses on display to the question ‘what were you wearing?’ reads as follows: I had been working out, so Nike shorts and a large T-shirt, I guess. I’m sure I smelled bad, I even remember thinking that…think[ing] about how bad I must smell. Because I needed to think about anything but what was happening to me.
Crosby explained that asking questions like ‘what were you were wearing’ can re-victimize the person and place the blame on them. Instead, ask questions such as: Are you okay? Do you need anything? Did you report it? How can I support you? Do you feel safe?
“We do a lot of training, but when someone comes to you, in the moment, it is hard to remember your training. The most important thing is to be someone who listens, who truly cares, is sincere in their actions, and that you make sure the person, who is really fragile at the moment, gets the care that they need,” said Crosby.
You can reach the WSMR SHARP 24/7 Hotline at 575-993-0589 or the DoD Safe Helpline 24/7/365 at 877-995-5247.