“What were you wearing?” It’s often one of the first questions women are asked when they come forward about being sexually assaulted.
Mackenzie Eckman, a junior double majoring in women and gender studies and human development and family science, is trying to change that with her internship project. The exhibit she’s working on will showcase the clothing survivors were wearing when they were sexually assaulted.
“My main goal is to show people clothing is not consent,” Eckman said. “What you’re wearing does not matter. It’s not going to justify anything.”
To get this message across, Mackenzie will take photos of participants wearing their outfits and also display clothing donated by survivors. The pictures will be blown up to full scale so viewers can easily and poignantly visualize the real people who were affected. The clothing donated by those who aren’t comfortable having their photo taken will be pinned up on walls or put on mannequins interwoven with the photos.
Mackenzie’s project will be displayed in the Memorial Union Gallery in conjunction with the Clothesline Project during the beginning of April, which is sexual assault awareness month.
“I think for a lot of people it’ll click, and it’ll make a lot of sense,” Eckman said. “Like ‘Wow, why are we telling these girls don’t dress slutty? You should be teaching people not to assault other people.’”
Mackenzie hopes her project will shed light on victim-blaming and encourage supporters of survivors to stop questioning what their friend was wearing or what setting they were in at the time of the assault.
She also aims to open up conversation, especially among survivors who often feel like they are alone in their experience. Even giving them the opportunity to get rid of the clothing they were wearing when they were assaulted can help with the healing process because the items can be a powerful reminder of what happened, something Eckman knows personally.
“I was assaulted my sophomore year of high school and my freshman year here, so it’s definitely something I’ve struggled with too,” Eckman said. “It’s like, if I would have worn a different shirt or hadn’t had my boobs hanging out or whatever, would that have changed my outcome? But I think it’s really important for survivors not to think like that because it’s not your fault. You didn’t ask for this. Your clothing didn’t ask for this. That didn’t provoke them. It’s just a shitty person. It’s a rapist. It’s not your clothing.”
Mackenzie will also be including her own picture in the exhibit. She would like to keep the project going and see it grow in the next few years, possibly even expanding to a website.
If any survivors are interested in getting involved, she is taking participants until March 15. You can contact her about taking a photo at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop off clothing with Kelsey Keimig, the assistant director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy, at the Office of Student Life in the Memorial Union.