'Creepy' and 'terrifying' describe this exhibit of everyday, common clothes

An exhibit on display at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton is being described as "terrifying" by those passing by, even though it's made up of everyday clothing.

16 outfits and 16 stories of sexual violence

Sixteen sets of clothing make up the sexual violence exhibit called What Were You Wearing?" It was designed to debunk the myth that woman can cause their own sexual assault by the clothes they wear. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

An exhibit at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton is being described as "terrifying" by those passing by, even though it consists of everyday, common clothing. 

But the jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts and pyjamas are outfits described by New Brunswick women as the clothes they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. 

The What Were You Wearing? exhibit was designed to debunk the myth that clothing choices can lead to sexual assault.  

"I think that [it's] showing people that this myth is not true, and that it's everyday clothes that people are wearing," said Jackie Toner, a UNB student who helped put the display together. 

"It's a baseball glove, it's a winter coat, it's anything." 

With each outfit is an account by the woman who was sexually assaulted while wearing it. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Alongside each of the 16 outfits is an account of what happened to the woman who wore it.

"It was my friend's 19th birthday," says the text next to a white shirt and black pencil skirt. "I was so excited to celebrate with her at Klub Khrome, especially since it was our first time going out together.

"I felt beautiful, powerful, and ready for fun. I didn't know that the same outfit that my friends thought was 'perfect' for our night out would be the same one used against me in court." 

Jackie Toner, a fourth-year UNB student, helped put together the exhibit running at the Student Union Building atrium until the end of the week. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Each exhibit lists what the unnamed victim recounted wearing. 

"White long sleeve shirt. Varsity-style cardigan. Loose 'mom' jeans," reads one description. 

Some lists are followed by accounts of the victim-shaming that came after the assaults. 

The What Were You Wearing? exhibit was designed to debunk the myth that clothing choices can lead to sexual assault. 0:42

"When I told my mother, she said that I was teasing boys with that shirt. I spent the next 3 years wearing only hoodies to make sure no one thought I was 'asking' to be touched," says the account next to a blue scoop-neck blouse under a brown winter coat. 

The text next to each exhibit of clothing contains an account submitted by the sexual assault victim and a list of the clothes she wore. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Although the exhibit was inspired by similar ones created at other Canadian universities, these personal accounts all come from women in New Brunswick. 

"We reached out to the community and asked people to come forward with their stories of sexual violence and talk about how we victim-blame survivors for what they were wearing during their assaults," said Maggie Forsythe, a campus sexual assault support advocate who helped organize and host the exhibit. 

New Brunswick women provided the clothing and the accounts. (Shane Fowler/CBC)
Forsythe, who knows the stories of many of the people involved in the accounts, recounted the history associated with a pink, sleeveless, summer dress. 

"You have this one in front of me that talks about how she went on a first date and wore the same dress that they had worn to work that day — so, something that you normally think to be professionally acceptable," Forsythe said.

"And then when they wore that to the date, they were sexually assaulted." 

Maggie Forsythe, a campus sexual assault support advocate, helped organize and host the exhibit. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Although the displays of clothing seem as benign as what a passerby would see in a storefront window, people who passed by them used words like "creepy" and "terrifying." 

"It's just regular clothing," Forsythe said. "Which is the goal —  to deconstruct that myth that it's the cocktail dress or the  short skirt or it's the revealing clothing that causes people to be out of control and to sexually assault somebody." 

The clothes and the stories they tell will be on display until Friday.