No victim bears responsibility for being sexually assaulted

Tuesday , April 10, 2018 - 4:30 AM9 comments

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

On the surface, it is a simple question: “What were you wearing?”

Yet that’s not the entire question, and it is not simple.

Because the rest goes unspoken: “What were you wearing when you were sexually assaulted?”

As if the victim is somehow to blame for the assault.

The victim is never to blame, which is the point of “What Were You Wearing?”

  • RELATED: “Exhibit showcases clothes worn by sexual assault victims”

“What Were You Wearing?” originated about five years ago at the University of Arkansas. It opened at the University of Kansas in September 2017.

Early last week, it arrived at Dixie State University.

It is a local exhibit, told by local sexual assault survivors. It consists of a series of tall, gray fabric panels. Pieces of clothing are attached to each panel.

One panel features a pair of denim shorts, a T-shirt and a swimsuit top. Many include hoodies and sweatpants — men’s and women’s.

And one spotlights a toddler’s red nightgown, size 2.

A note from the survivor accompanies each display, describing the clothing. Some notes also provide a narrative of the attack.

"It's not about what people wear, who they are, where they were at time, what their identities are, or even about their decisions or decisions they didn't make — it's about who caused the harm," Florence Bacabac, director of DSU's Women's Resource Center and an associate professor of English, told the Spectrum.

Now you can see what they wore. And now you understand, if you didn’t before, that no victim bears responsibility for being attacked.

It’s a lesson Utah still needs to learn.

Why? Because in 2014, the rate of women raped in Utah was far greater than the national number, the Utah Health Department reports. Here, 67.7 women per 100,000 were raped, compared to 51.9 nationally.

Why? Because nearly 90 percent of rapes go unreported, according to a 2007 Utah survey.

Why? Because in 2016 alone, according to a state report, nearly 10 percent of Utah adults said they’d been sexually assaulted.

Every university, every city in Utah needs to stage its own installation of “What Were You Wearing?” Perhaps if enough people see it, we can begin building a culture that no longer tolerates sexual assault.

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