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‘What Were You Wearing?’ brings awareness on sexual assault victims

Maria Ramos Pacheco
“What Were You Wearing?” held its opening night Saturday, Oct. 19, at Glasbox.

“What Were You Wearing?” an art exhibition meant to bring awareness and highlight the experiences of sexual assault victims, held its opening night Saturday, Oct. 19, at Glasbox.  

Jen Brockman, the director of the University of Kansas’ Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center, started the art project back in 2013 alongside Mary A. Wyandt-Hiebert, from the University of Arkansas, according to HuffPost. Since then, the exhibition has been presented in many states across the country.  

Esther Zapata, a sexual assault survivor who knows someone who died because of domestic abuse, has wanted to bring the event to El Paso for some time now. Zapata is the executive director of EP Self Defense Initiative, an organization that helps improve relationships in the community by empowering individuals to stop domestic violence and sexual assault through education and awareness, while also providing a safe space for expression.    

Working with teenagers in high schools has inspired Zapata to bring awareness on sexual assault. 

“We need to create awareness of what sexual assault is,” Zapata said. “We see it at the schools every day and no one is willing to talk about it because they don’t know the signs.”  

Throughout the room, more than 50 outfits hung next to a note that had the statement of a victim who wore similar clothes when they were sexually assaulted. The clothes belonged to children, women and men.   

The exhibit displayed diapers, dresses, pajamas, shorts, work-out clothes, a prom dress, a military uniform, a wedding dress, lingerie, hoodies, jeans and many other variations.  

Zapata mentioned that they wanted to give voice to the people who have gone through this kind of traumatic event and let them know that they are not alone, that it’s okay to share their stories.  

Brianna Holcomb, a 21-year-old UTEP student majoring in psychology, went to the art exhibit with her friend. She knew about the event because of her women and gender studies professor, who told their class about it.  

“I didn’t only come because of the extra credit points, but also because I think it’s very important to talk about this, people need to be educated,” Holcomb said. “I don’t believe that, “What were you wearing?” should matter, it’s such a nonrelative question.”  

Zapata pointed out, “education is the key, we can prevent this if we teach our kids so they can know when something it’s wrong.”   

Square Peg Youth Empowerment also collaborated to bring this event to the city. Melody Gomez, Square Peg’s president and executive director, thanked the people who attended and shared her story about being raped.   

“It took me time to be able to say it, to say that I was raped,” Gomez said.  

Frontera Folx, a new UTEP student organization with a mission to educate others about reproductive rights and to create a safe space to learn and talk about sex in a responsible way created August, was also part of the event.   

Karina Sosa, a social work major at UTEP and member of Frontera Folx, offered “goodie bags” containing condoms, pepper spray and information about sex along with other members of the organization.   

Frontera Folx are sponsored and guided when it comes to facts and information by El Paso’s Planned Parenthood clinic.   

“It’s very important to be aware of these tragic occurrences,” Sosa said. “We should teach the youth just in case this happens to them and they can talk about it and look up for help.”  

Diego Martinez, a 32-year-old artist and educator, cried after reading the notes next to the clothes.   

“It’s good … because it’s an outlet for bringing awareness to a situation, to support each other because this is a reality,” Martinez said.  

Martinez added that it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, this can happen to anyone at any moment.  

“We don’t question fear anymore, we don’t share our stories anymore, we go through life thinking that’s okay and it’s not okay,” said Gomez. “We need to talk about this.”  

The exhibit will run from Oct. 19 to Oct. 26. During the exhibit’s closing night, there will be a panel featuring experts, victims and people working toward stopping and preventing sexual assault in El Paso.  

Maria Ramos Pacheco may be reached at [email protected] 

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‘What Were You Wearing?’ brings awareness on sexual assault victims