AUSTIN, Texas — A new installation coming to Austin seeks to shatter the narrative that clothes can determine the likelihood of sexual abuse.
- Exhibit What Was I Wearing? opening in April
- Displays clothing of sexual assault survivors
- Interested participants can apply here
The nonprofit The SAFE Alliance is in the process of gathering outfits and creating replicas for a series of exhibitions called, What Was I Wearing? and will display the stories of survivors and the clothes they wore when they were sexually assaulted.
“This is just another opportunity to share with the community, what kind of things survivors go through, but what kind of things we all do, sometimes that cause more harm. It's an opportunity to invite survivors to share their stories in a way for them to join us in this effort to raise awareness and to change attitudes about sexual assault,” said Ileana Aguilar, a trainer for the nonprofit’s community education program.
Staff said too often survivors are asked about what they were wearing at the time of the incident, which can suggest it was their fault. Aguilar said she hopes through the exhibition, visitors can understand that sexual assault does not mostly happen between strangers, but rather people who know each other.
“When we do the wrong questions, we are harming the survivor first, and we're harming the whole society, because we are paying attention and putting the responsibility in the wrong place. We are not asking, ‘Why did they do it? Why did they choose to harm another person? Why do they abuse?’,” Aguilar said.
Anna Belle Burleson, a longtime volunteer of The SAFE Alliance, is planning to participate. The 66-year-old donates her time to largely be a part of the peer support program, where survivors help each other heal. More than 30 years ago, when Burleson escaped domestic violence, she and her son stayed at nonprofit’s shelter, at the time it was called the Center for Battered Women.
“All of the services that are provided by SAFE are really directed towards loving and nurturing survivors and helping them find their way,” she said.
Burleson believes the new installation will bring validation to survivors of sexual violence. She anticipates seeing a range of clothing on display.
“The sexual assault rape that happened to me was within my marriage and happened in my marital bed on a regular basis. My exhibit is going to be just a simple cotton night gown,” she said.
Decades later, Burleson said sexual violence does not define her like it used to. Around the holidays, it is guaranteed that she is baking for her family. It is a joy among other things she could not do when she was married.
“He thought he buried me, but what really happened is he was planting seeds and I sprouted into a much stronger woman,” Burleson said.
The first exhibition is set to open in April of next year at the gallery of the Consulate General of Mexico of Austin. The nonprofit is accepting contributions through the end of the year. If someone is ready and interested in participating visit submissions page on The SAFE Alliance website.
If you are interested in donating to support the exhibition, click here.
People must be 18 years old or other to participate. Staff said all submissions will remain anonymous.