A student browses through the exhibit, which featured stories of survivors' experiences with sexual assault.

Courtesy of The Naked Truth

A student browses through the exhibit, which featured stories of survivors' experiences with sexual assault.

October 14, 2018

‘Powerful Beyond Words’: What Were You Wearing? Event Showcases Sexual Assault Survivors’ Stories

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In Klarman Hall on Friday and Saturday, students quietly shuffled through stands with articles of clothing clipped onto them, reading the accompanying signs detailing stories of sexual assault.

Using the notion that survivors are often told how their choice of clothing and self presentation may have contributed to sexual violence, the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit aimed to remind the public to hold perpetrators accountable.

The “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit originated at the University of Arkansas in 2013, and has been put on in many different universities since. This weekend’s exhibit at Cornell was put up by student organization The Naked Truth and aimed to demonstrate how sexual violence can occur to survivors of all genders, ages, professions and identities.

“Our biggest focus was to try and stay as true to the story that the survivors provided,” said Tarangana Thapa ’21, vice president of finance for The Naked Truth. “At the end of the day it isn’t about the clothes, but about the stories.”

The Naked Truth was founded this year in order to go beyond raising awareness for sexual assault by bringing new events and presenting issues to the community in a different fashion, founder and president Forest-Amber Borealis ’21 told The Sun.

“Last semester I noticed that there was a need on campus for another organization to tackle the issue of sexual violence on campus and in the community. While there have been educational efforts, it is necessary to bring transparency to the conversation surrounding sexual violence,” she continued.

“This exhibit is powerful beyond words. … This serves as a reminder that we must continually mobilize to combat sexual violence on campus and beyond,” said Grace Mehler ’20, one of the attendees.

Apart from the “What Were You Wearing?” exhibit, The Naked Truth is also petitioning the administration to bring a database reporting system called Callisto to Cornell.

Callisto, Thapa explained, is an online database where people can anonymously report perpetrators. When individuals are repeatedly reported, the University is notified.

According to Borealis, Cornell is aware of the existence of the database and the Naked Truth has brought the issue to their attention through an informal meeting.

“While it seems that Cornell is aware of Callisto, no formal steps have been taken to implement the program. We feel that part of the issue is the price of implementation, but our organization firmly believes that no price is too high when it comes to addressing sexual violence on campus,” said Borealis.

The petition for Callisto will serve as one of the key goals for the organization moving forward, along with generating more conversation around sexual assault and spreading awareness.

“There are organizations on this campus that are doing a wonderful job spreading awareness, but there is never enough. There are always going to be issues happening, but we need to teach the idea of consent and also be there for survivors and victims after,” said Thapa.