“The Clothes We Wear”: Behind Sexual Assault

This past week, Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (SAASHA) was working on an art installation called “The Clothes We Wear.” The exhibit included t-shirts on a clothesline decorated with positive messages for survivors of sexual violence and statistics showing the facts of sexual assault on campus to raise awareness of the reality of sexual harassment students face. The installation traveled, starting in the gallery space in the Warch Campus Center to the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center and then the Conservatory, continuing to move where there is most interest.

SAASHA chair and senior Casey Shearson shared her enthusiasm for the art installation, “This has been an idea SAASHA had since last Spring Term, and I am excited we are finally doing it.” Vice Chair and junior Naomi Oster said, “’Survivor’s Clothesline’ is an installation that is affirmative to survivors and anyone who has had any interaction with sexual violence or harassment and serves as a reminder this is a real issue. Assault can stick with somebody like the clothes they wear.”

Statistics show that one in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape and that 95 percent of people know their perpetrator. The remaining percentage of women who have not experienced rape themselves still are aware of someone who has, such as a family member or a neighbor. More statistics can be found in the art installation. SAASHA Board member and junior Mallory Bryan wanted to make sure that these statistics were seen and would start a conversation about sexual assault and harassment on campus.

“We should not have four percent of people on campus say they have been sexually assaulted,” said Bryan. “SAASHA wants to push people out of their comfort zones to be aware this is a real issue.”

Oster wanted anyone who viewed the project, especially someone who was a survivor of sexual assault, to “feel empowered that there is a group on campus that cares about them and knows they are not alone by seeing the real statistics of our campus and the national community.” She emphasized that she was most excited for responses and reactions after the project was finished. Oster stated that she would also like to hear any negative reactions because she felt that it is still worthwhile to hear from those who have a differing opinion. “I think their criticism is as important and can be where misinformation lies,” said Oster. “I want to know who is aware and who cares.”

Shearon shared her views on the motivation behind the exhibit, saying “I hope for one survivor who walks by [to feel like] there is a space for them here on campus and that their story matters and that there are people at Lawrence who are working to support them.” Bryan added “So many of us are so wrapped in our lives don’t realize there is someone who needs help and we can help them.”

SAASHA would also be having more bystander intervention trainings. A bystander is someone who does not speak up when they see an act of sexual violence. Either this person sees it but will not say anything, will see it, but not recognize it, or not see it at all. Because it is uncomfortable to say something when acts of sexual violence occur, SAASHA wants to create a safe space for students to learn and obtain helpful resources.

“So often if you are not involved and you don’t think about [sexual violence], you don’t realize these are real things happening—I want people to be jarred out of it,” said Bryan. Oster added that the important thing is to do something. “We need to remember to stop sexual violence is to stop a culture that permits it. Feeling a responsibility to act is a community-based feeling.”

SAASHA wants to make a campus a safer and more supportive place for everybody. With the new art installation and bystander intervention trainings, information about campus sexual assault and harassment prevention will be more comprehensive and accessible to all. “The statistics are from Lawrence because we can’t pretend those statistics don’t apply to us just because we are a small liberal arts college.” said Bryan. On-campus resources such as Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources & Education (SHARE), confidential resources and a Sexual Assault Crisis Center are helping to provide an outlet for victims of sexual assault.

Oster shared her mantra, “I am more” which means “I am more than the sum of things of what happened to me and the activism that I do.” Oster believed this was important for all survivors to remember.

Shearson wished to tell survivors, “You are valid whoever you are and whatever your experience is—you matter and we are here for you and you have a place at Lawrence.”