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Sexual assault survivor stories on display at BGSU

Bowling Green activists and BGSU students are helping to tell the stories of survivors through an interactive exhibit on campus.
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:53 PM EDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (WTVG) - Inside Bowling Green State University’s Bowen-Thompson Student Union, mannequins model a stark reality. Each of the figures wears the clothing of a real-life sexual assault survivor.

“I see a lot of hurt and it’s hard,” says Jamie Wlosowicz, Student Engagement Coordinator for the BGSU Center For Women, Gender, and Equity. “It’s hard to see these stories and view them, but mostly I see strength in people sharing their story. Something wonderful about viewing these outfits is recognizing that sexual violence impacts everyone in our community. Whether you personally have experienced it or know someone that has, you have been impacted by it.”

The exhibit, titled “What Were You Wearing?,” replicates the real-life outfits survivors told advocates they were wearing when they were assaulted. The display forces viewers to consider their assumptions about sexual assault survivors and forces them to confront the questions survivors are asked when reporting the crime. Wlosowicz believes by sharing the traumatic experiences of others creates a safe space for survivors to speak out.

“We’ve had a lot of people say that I didn’t even realize that -- that story is something I’ve experienced. I didn’t even realize how harmful some of my lived experiences were until I’ve been in this setting,” they say.

In total, 17 mannequins depict 17 different stories gathered from anonymous sexual assault victims across the region. Those victims represent all genders and range in age from 14 to 60.

“These mannequins and the clothing on them represent what sexual assault survivors were actually wearing at the time of their sexual assault,” says Elle Fullenkamp, whose organization, The Cocoon is behind the event. “What we are hoping to do in showcasing this as you might see is that there’s a variety of different outfits here today. There are outfits from men and women, and it shows you that what you were wearing really was not a factor when it comes to sexual assault. When it comes to these rape myths, these ideas that whatever a survivor was doing -- that it’s their fault that they were sexually assaulted. How can you look at a 14 or 15-year-old child and say that something they have done has caused their victimization?”

Staff with The Cocoon provide crisis intervention and emotional support for victims of sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking. Together, Cocoon employees and BGSU students believe “What Were You Wearing?” is all about debunking stereotypes and misinformation. Anyone, wearing anything, can fall victim to sexual assault.

“I think if folks understood that this sexual violence can happen to anybody -- can happen anywhere under any circumstance -- we would have more of a community of care where people are supported,” says Wlosowicz. “A place where people have access to resources, where people are believed, where people can flourish, and really do their best because they are given the proper resources to heal.”

The “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit is open free to the public and runs through April 8th, from 10 am until 4 pm.

BGSU students and staff with the Center for Violence Prevention and Education, as well as members of The Cocoon, are hosting a 5K and DogWalk this Saturday to raise money in order to grow public awareness about sexual violence and continue to educate communities on how to prevent it. Tickets are $15 for BGSU students and $20 for non-students and are available online.

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