Local exhibit silently answers the question: ‘What were you wearing?’

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The traveling art exhibit ‘What Were You Wearing?‘ is coming to El Paso, bringing a visual element to sexual assault survivors’ stories.

“I think that for many people it might be a triggering event, especially those that have experienced sexual assault,” says Esther Zapata, Executive Director of EP Self Defense Initiative.

The exhibit started in 2013 by two women leaders from University of Kansas and University of Arkansas. Six years later, ‘What Were You Wearing?’ has gained national attention, having been featured across the nation.

The event was brought to the Sun City with the support of EP Self Defense Initiative, Square Peg Youth Empowerment, and the Glasbox.

Attendees can expect articles of clothing and outfits inspired by real stories to be on display. The hope is to instigate real and raw discussion surrounding sexual assault.

Organizers said victim blaming is an issue that many survivors still face today due to existing ‘rape culture.’ An existing stigma suggests that incidents of sexual violence and abuse are directly related to someone’s clothing decisions.

“Something as simple as getting dressed in the morning, putting on clothing, should not ever be worn as a suit of shame,” said Melody Gomez of Square Peg Youth Empowerment.

Zapata, a sexual assault survivor, remembered the first time she was violated and even what she wore at the time of the attack, her work uniform.

From personal experience, she said sexual assault needs to become a more normalized conversation. Doing so may help prevent future attacks; it continues to be a common issue among the community.

“So, sexual assault is a lot more prevalent in our society than people would like to admit. 1 in 5 girls is sexually assaulted by the time she’s 18. 1 in 7 boys is sexually assaulted by the time he’s 18. It’s happening and we can’t stay quiet anymore,” says Zapata.

Organizers told KTSM that this event is giving a survivors a chance to be heard and seen; it’s meant to be a place of healing, allowing men and women of all background to “take back their power.”

The exhibit doesn’t answer the question, but rather “…poignantly and silently answers the question, “what were you wearing?” And the answer will and always will be, nothing that makes sexual assault okay,” said Gomez.

Attendees will be able to view over 50 inspired outfits as well as read the stories attached to them. Organizers said that local performances and educational resources will also be a part of the exhibit’s showcase.

‘What Were You Wearing?’ will host its opening night on Saturday, Oct. 19 starting at 5:00 p.m. Admission is free of charge.

The exhibit will be up for display through Saturday, Oct. 26.

210 Poplar Street
El Paso, TX 79901

*Note from the organizers: “Meant as a statement piece and to start conversations about sexual assault, the exhibit might be triggering and emotional.”

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