'Creepy' and 'terrifying' describe this exhibit of everyday, common clothes
16 outfits and 16 stories of sexual violence
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."
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."
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.
"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.
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.
"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."
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.