Last week, during a rape trial in Cork, the lawyer for a 27-year-old accused man told jurors they should have regard for the underwear the 17-year-old complainant wore, adding: “She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
Even in a jurisdiction where rape is defined on the basis of lack of consent, numerous obstacles remain in the way of women’s access to justice. It seems that it is women’s responsibility to protect themselves from rape. In fact, a young woman’s item of underwear was taken as an evidence of consent.
“What were you wearing?”, that is the question to which women victims of rape are recurrently forced to respond. Just the question that gives the name to the exhibition that took place at Bocconi University, in the Velodromo building from the 14th to the 19th of November. The survivor art installation promoted by the University of Kansas has been replicated in Italy by Libere Sinergie and Bocconi4Bookcity.
The prejudice that the exhibition aims to break down is that the women could have avoided rape if they had put clothes less revealing or provocative. The exhibition collects the story of seventeen sexual violences, for each one is exhibited a plausible representation of the clothes that the victim wore at that time. Seeing a concrete example of those clothes has touched the hearts of many students. It is impressive how women could see that the clothes of the victims are similar to those they have in the closet.
All the stories told are very touching and one in particular has certainly upset many girls who walk through the University corridors every day. It concerns a black dress, just bought, worn one evening, during what was supposed to be a happy party among friends, just after having passed the most difficult exam. Another example is the story of a girl raped while she was coming home, in gym suit, returning from a sport training. It is sadly easy to see ourselves reflected in these stories.
But the victims are not just girls, they are women of various ages, nationalities and social states. The clothes are the most varied, from the apron of a cleaning lady to workwear, from the pyjamas to the turtleneck sweater.
Moreover, the project indirectly helps the same women victims of sexual violence. In fact, it allows them to become aware that they could not avoid what happened to them through their clothes, and to understand the stereotypes that still justify this ignoble phenomenon.
On the same subject we should remember that just two days ago was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Surely, it is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise public awareness of violence against women. It has been observed on November 25 each year since 2000.
We can find the roots of this day remembering three sisters: Patria Mercedes Mirabal, María Argentina Minerva Mirabal and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal. On November 25 in 1960, they were assassinated in the Dominican Republic on the orders of the Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo. The Mirabel sisters fought hard to end Trujillo's dictatorship, so the activists on women's rights have remembered the anniversary of their deaths since 1981. In 1999, the 25 of November was designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by the UN General Assembly.
However, the reflection upon this kind of brutal actions cannot be confined just in a specific day. It is exactly for this reason that Libere Sinergie has brought this exhibition in different areas frequented daily by citizens.
Such projects make us reflect upon how to examine and combat sexual violence. Furthermore, they make us think we must stop believing that sexual violence can be stopped by avoiding wearing certain clothes. This conception leads only to justify a crime, but the action is carried out by specific people, and it is the act of these people that creates such pains.