As Latinas, many of us have grown up with comments that suggest we could be responsible for the looming threats of violence against our bodies. Warnings that we ought to “cubrir” or else risk looking like we’re “pedirlo” have been hurled at us from doorways and living rooms from even our most early stages of adolescents. The intimations being that our decision to wear the “wrong” outfit could put us amongst the 321,500 victims who report an incident of sexual assault in the United States each year.
A recent exhibit created at the University of Florida called “What Were You Wearing?” illustrates that when a person’s body is violated, it is never because of something that they did or “asked for.”
Inspired by Mary Simmerling’s poem, What I Was Wearing, the exhibit curated stories from anonymous students who shared what they wore at the time of their assaults.
CREDIT: WUFT News/ Youtube.com
The exhibit’s design is rather straightforward. Garments cling onto white sheets that feature the painful stories of sexual assault victims in a hall on UF’s campus. Lazaro Tejera, a UF student who had been inspired by similar projects initially launched by the University of Arkansas in 2013, selected anonymous stories from victims of sexual assault that detailed what they had been wearing when they had been attacked. Every display is accompanied by a recreation of the garments described. Everyday clothing from jeans and shorts to sweatshirts and pajamas hang next to heartbreaking stories that serve as an answer to the question of “what were you wearing during your assault?” that so many victims face during their attempts to seek help and support.
One display at the showcase highlights a woman’s pair of overalls next to her story. “I was wearing overalls and my favorite T-shirt,” the card pinned next to the overall says. “I went inside with them because it was summer and I was hot, and they said they had lemonade. I never wore overalls again.”
The display underlines the fact that it doesn’t matter what a person is wearing at the time of an assault.
The suggestion that a woman who wears provocative clothing is at fault for stimulating sexual aggression in men is something that Latinas have long been forced to endure. It’s an issue that is hardly helped by the fact that we are often targeted for hyper-sexualization. Take a look at the hyper-sexualized media coverage of Latinas and it’s easy to see. In 2013, after a 20-year-old woman filed a report that she had been assaulted inside of a club, the owner suggested in an interview to a local station that it was the victim’s fault because she had worn a skirt. “She’s dressed in an overcoat and underneath it, has a miniskirt on,” The owner, Andres Jaramillo told a local radio station at the time. “Well, what’s she playing at?”
Years earlier, in 2003, actress Sofia Vergara was forced to endure a barrage of disgusting comments from the now-disgraced comedian Bill Cosby who had suggested at the time that her clothing made him dangerously “excited.” “S-I-N is sin,” Cosby told Vergara during his interview with her. “Men look at you, and they only think of sin … Now what you have on tonight is wonderful. This is wonderful. And when you walked out, many, uh, many people became attentive.”
Sexual violence is a global problem not at all confined to the Latino community, but it is one that affects Latinas at high rates. Projections based on a recent U.S. Census has led researchers to believe that by 2050, 10.8 million Latinas living in the U.S. will have experienced some form of sexual violence.