"Well, what were you wearing?" This is a question many sexual assault survivors are familiar with. And Katherine Cambareri's "Well, What Were You Wearing?" photo series shows exactly why this question is not OK. By displaying the actual items of clothing people were wearing when they were assaulted, the exhibit demonstrates why focusing on clothing not only blames victims for their assaults but also misrepresents how sexual violence actually works.
"Sexual assault is an act of control and power and has nothing to do with a person’s clothing," the project's description on Cambareri's website explains. She's right: According to a Federal Commission on Crime of Violence study, the majority of rapists can't even recall what the victim was wearing. If it were so instrumental to the assault, they would most likely remember it. The same study also found that only 4.4 percent of rapes followed "provocative behavior" by victims (a problematic phrase to begin with because nobody provokes rape, but this nevertheless shows people aren't even engaging in behavior commonly considered provocative).
"Sexual assault never occurs because of what a person is wearing; the only reason sexual assault occurs is because a person assaults someone else," the artist's statement explains.
The project was exhibited at Arcadia University, where Cambareri attends college, and includes submissions she collected from other students there. In order to give an accurate picture of what people were wearing before their assaults, she didn't leave any submissions out.
The photos demonstrate that the pieces of clothing people were wearing when they were assaulted are not the revealing items people often assume sexual assault victims must have been wearing. It would still not be their fault even if they were, though, and that's exactly what these images prove: Clothing has nothing to do with it. "Questions like this are asked to protect the perpetrator rather than the victim," Cambareri tells Bustle over email. "I find it asinine that survivors are sometimes blamed before they even have the chance to tell their stories. I wanted to do something to prove how unnecessary these victim-blaming type questions are."
"I hope that viewers are able to trade places and imagine themselves wearing the items of clothing I've photographed," she added. "It is important for people to gain new perspectives to end stigmas and break stereotypes."
You can view the rest of the series at Katherine Cambareri's website.
Images: courtesy of Katherine Cambareri