Exhibit challenges victim-blaming, places responsibility solely on perpetrators

The Kinetic Gallery exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” (pictured above) displays various outfits inspired by sexual assault victims. The display was put in place by community response team member sophomore Natalie Schlueck with the help of other Geneseo coordinators (Catherine White/editor-in-chief).

Sexual assault has a history of stigmatization in the United States, exemplified through the question most often asked of victims: “what were you wearing?” Victims should never be blamed for their own assault, and the Kinetic Gallery’s most recent exhibit hopes to reinforce this position. 

The exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” aims to correct the misconception that certain clothing promotes sexual assaulters. To make that point, the display contained different outfits people wore when they were sexually harassed. 

This exhibit is one installment in a string of national exhibits inspired by the University of Kansas’s original display with the same concept. It was brought to the gallery through community response team member sophomore Natalie Schlueck and the help of Geneseo Campus Activities Board arts and exhibits coordinator sophomore Sarah Michel and PREVENT coordinator Carrie Johnson. 

Schlueck explained that the idea behind the exhibit is to combat notions that what a person wears affects their chances of being sexually assaulted.

 “What I’ve learned is that with society it’s really easy to jump to ‘what were you wearing’ and stuff like that,” Schlueck said. “What this exhibit hopes to do is take that focus and shift it towards being more supportive for victims and survivors and understanding that what someone is wearing isn’t what determines who gets sexually assaulted.” 

The exhibit begins with the stereotyped example of a short skirt and heels, and continues with a pajama outfit and athletic wear, finishing with a university shirt and khakis. Schlueck made sure to include outfits inspired by men’s stories as well, reminding audiences that women are not the only ones at risk of sexual assault. 

The stories, Schlueck made clear, are not submitted by Geneseo students, but rather come as part of an installation kit sent by the University of Kansas. The clothing, similarly, is not actual clothing worn by victims. Most of the outfits were donated by Pride Alliance and correlate to the stories included in the installation kit. 

Schlueck felt it was important to include tangible takeaways, like “end victim-blaming” stickers and flyers that promote on-campus resources for those affected by sexual assault. Contrived in equal part by Schlueck and Johnson is a thoughts box where patrons can impart their reactions. 

“Thoughts have been 98 percent positive and moving,” Johnson said. “People are very moved; they say, ‘thank you for doing this.’ We’re going to take the responses and do something with them for the ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’ walk in October.” 

Communication major senior Rachel Choset recognized how important and effective it is to bring sexual assault education and discussion on campus.

“I’m very happy that it was brought to Geneseo,” Choset said. “It creates an active conversation we need to start having with each other about this topic, and I think we need to start talking more and make it less taboo.” 

The exhibit will only be available until Friday Sept. 28, but there are hopes to bring it back annually with new elements to drive home the central themes.

 “From a prevention standpoint, definitely raising awareness is huge, but the education piece is also bigger,” Schlueck said. “We talked about having statistics and letting people know that this happens on every campus, everywhere, and it doesn’t happen at Geneseo any more or any less than other places.” 

This exhibit comes at an especially pertinent time, given the recent arrests of two male students for the sexual assault of a Geneseo student. 

“I was kind of shocked to hear about the news from a student experience,” Schlueck said. “What I hope from that is for people to understand that even when you think you’re in places that you think it doesn’t happen, it can still happen. Support the person who has now gone through this experience, do not question what they were wearing or their actions.”

Editor-in-chief Catherine White contributed reporting to this article.