Visit any comments thread on any article that has anything to do with rape on a college campus, and you will always find comments like these:
“Stop being promiscuous women! And cover your selves!” — Oscar Silva
“Real women shouldn’t be such teases. If you don’t want the man to place the order? Don’t advertise it on the menu.” — Drahcir Samoht
Regardless of the legal details, people often find reasons to blame the victim in what occurred. How much they drank. Who they were with. What they were wearing.
Katherine Cambareri knows this all too well after reaching out to sexual assault victims for her senior thesis project at Arcadia University.
After reading Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula about the legal, personal, and social struggles rape victims faced after reporting their assaults in a passionate college football town, she was motivated to create a project to help stand up for all victims of sexual assault, everywhere.
Cambareri tells Babble, “The book really opened my eyes to victim-blaming and the questions that survivors of sexual assault are asked, such as,’What were you wearing?’ which are asked to protect the perpetrator rather than the victim.”
After several female students responded to her request on Facebook, she asked them if they would be willing to share the articles of clothing they were wearing to be photographed on a quest to challenge the notion that revealing clothing is the problem. Several volunteers stepped up.
“I did not require any of the volunteers to disclose their stories to me because I wanted them to feel as comfortable as possible. Some of them told me that it was nice to be able to do something positive with their experience, because sexual assault survivors are so often told to ‘hush’ about their experiences as to not make others uncomfortable. I even had people reach out to me who wished they could have helped but had gotten rid of their clothes already.”
The lightly rumpled clothing was photographed on a black background in soft light, setting a somber mood.
“I did not notice any patterns — I’ve seen and realized that sexual assault does not affect any one style, type of clothing, or size. I’ve had shorts and also sweaters be part of this project. Sexual assault is an act of power and control and nothing else.”
Unfortunately, the accusatory comments online towards assault victims often come from other women, like these I found regarding a college rape trial:
“I guess I’m the only [one who] feels it wasn’t rape.. Any woman drinking with a few guys [then] going to their bedroom knew what they were doing, she just didn’t want it taped.. This is everyday on college campuses they’re just guilty of being football players.. I’m entitled to my opinion no need to message me arguing..” — Kristina Gilbert
“Maybe change the way they dress.” — Marsha Mcelwee
“A bunch of drunk college kids..why did she go to the mens room? I’m sure if I were to get in a snake pit I would get bit… We all need to watch who we party with.” — Kimberly Moon
But Cambareri wants this to change.
“It is extremely important to me that women stand up for each other, especially when others won’t, such as those in charge in law enforcement or campus officials. Victim blaming occurs due to fear; people think that if they can pinpoint a reason that a victim was assaulted, the person can avoid doing that and therefore won’t be at risk of being assaulted. People need to educate themselves on this topic and I believe it is important for women to stand up for each other, especially because more women are sexually assaulted than men.”
The photography student has received a lot of positive feedback on this year-long “Well, What Were You Wearing?” exhibit and it’s given her even more motivation to continue the project. She hopes to include future participation from males.
“I was not expecting people to be so thankful for this project. I’ve also had numerous strangers reach out to me, telling me their stories and thanking me, and what they wore when they were assaulted.”
“I also learned that sexual assault is an international problem. I had really only done research and read stories about sexual assault in America, but I’ve had many people from other countries tell me it is just as relevant there as it is here.”
Cambareri wants her photographs to make people uncomfortable because it opens up an important dialogue about the stereotypes and stigma of sexual assault. And she believes her photos illustrate the point that clothing does not cause sexual assault.
“Sexual assault occurs because a person decided to assault another person, and for no other reason.”
To view more photographs in Katherine Cambareri’s exhibit, visit her website.More On