In 2013, Mary Simmerling published a poem titled “What I Was Wearing…” which details the outfit she was wearing when she was sexually assaulted: a white t-shirt and a knee-length denim skirt.
This poem has gone on to inspire a traveling art exhibition of the same name. In the exhibit, the clothing of sexual assault survivors is displayed alongside quotes from those individuals. Versions of “What I Was Wearing” have been seen at the University of Arkansas, Kansas University and now the University of Louisville.
The exhibit features more than a dozen outfits. Sue Eng Ly is a U of L law student and member of the college’s human rights advocacy program, which sponsored the exhibition.
“I think what people will notice is how ordinary the clothes look,” Eng Ly said.
She said that the exhibition takes aim at the question often posed to victims of sexual assault: “What were you wearing?” Though, she pointed out — as does Simmerling in her poem — that the question is rarely, if ever, asked of the person committing the assault.
“People will often, when they think of the clothes a survivor wore the day they were assaulted, they often think of tight clothing and short dresses or skirts,” she said.
And there are items that fit that description.
“But there is lot of sweats and tee-shirts, prom clothing, a sari,” Eng Ly said. “People will also see the dress of a four-year-old.”
“What I Was Wearing” is on view at U of L through December 1.