Eye-opening exhibition sparks difficult conversations around sexual assault

University of Hertfordshire lecturer Dr Mateja Vuk, Red Kite chair Siobhan Nundram and criminology student Madison Kerr

University of Hertfordshire lecturer Dr Mateja Vuk, Red Kite chair Siobhan Nundram and criminology student Madison Kerr were on hand to answer questions about the What Were You Wearing exhibition - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Students and lecturers at the University of Hertfordshire visited a powerful and thought-provoking installation at the site's main reception last week, entitled What Were You Wearing.

The exhibition had been put together by representatives from rape and sexual assault charity, Red Kite - alongside the criminology department at the university - with the support of a number of students. 

Featuring facsimiles of the clothes people were wearing when they were raped or sexually assaulted, alongside testimonies from the victims, the display aims to dispel the idea that someone's clothing could contribute to a perpetrator's decision to assault them.

"We've had a really strong, impactful response from people that have seen the installation. We just want everyone to see it," Red Kite chair Siobhan Nundram said.

Red Kite Rape support service

Red Kite services are available to residents across towns and villages in eastern Herts - Credit: Georgia Barrow

"We want everyone to see it and be thinking about these issues. The amount of interest from the academic staff has been heartening. You can be sure that someone who's visited will go away and tell someone else and start a conversation. 

"It's been amazing to watch some people come in and how they process the information and have been engaging and asking questions."

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Lecturer at Hertfordshire Law School, Dr Mateja Vuk, was instrumental in bringing the installation to the university, having teamed up with the charity. 

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Following their work together, she has now become a board member at Red Kite.

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

Some items featured in the exhibition came as a shock to visitors, including pyjamas and school uniform - Credit: Georgia Barrow

She said: "Even for people who agree with what we're doing and understand that we shouldn't be blaming victims, it's so powerful - people have been quite shocked. It reinforces what they already thought they knew and it not to this extreme. 

"We don't expect this exhibition to fix rape culture, but at least it starts a conversation."

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Some clothing included in the installation were a child's school dress, pyjamas, work-out clothes and a prom dress. The items were accompanied by quotes from the people the clothes belonged to.

What Were You Wearing exhibition

The intense and eye-opening installation What Were You Wearing aims to dispel myths that a victim's clothing plays a part in their assault - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Second year criminal justice and criminology student, Madison Kerr - alongside fellow students - also lent a hand at the exhibition.

She said: "I wanted to get involved, it's such an important topic. I think people see rape as someone screaming and shouting and it's very obvious, but there are so many layers to it that people don't realise."

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Mateja concluded: "I just want to highlight the hard work that students put into this project. We are trying to implement many different projects we know can give practical experience. Looking at criminology that engages with issues that affect everybody." 

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Approximately 90 per cent of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence, according to Rape Crisis England & Wales.

Comments left in a feedback book mostly referred to the exhibition being "eye-opening", "thought-provoking", and praised the message that sexual assault is never a result of the victim's clothing. 

'What Were You Wearing' came to campus in the same week of the national Girls Night In protest against drink spiking which students at UH took part in. 

The national campaign saw women - particularly university students - across the country boycott pubs and night clubs in a bid to raise awareness of drink spiking and sexual harassment in venues.

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence

The What Were You Wearing exhibition sparked conversations about sexual violence - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Red Kite's helpline is available to victims of sexual assault or rape to make a self-referral - or those providing support can make referrals on their behalf.

The thought-provoking installation was in place at the University of Hertfordshire for one week

The thought-provoking installation was in place at the University of Hertfordshire for one week - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Red Kite offers support and therapy, and teaches coping techniques like grounding and how to manage anxiety. It also used techniques such as Meridian tapping - or emotional freedom tapping - designed to slow down fast heart rates and blood pressure.

The thought-provoking installation was in place at the University of Hertfordshire for one week

The thought-provoking installation was in place at the University of Hertfordshire for one week - Credit: Georgia Barrow

Charity chair Siobhan, who is a former mental health nurse, added: "If a person still needs further support, we have a recovery services with fully-qualified counsellors. We have a robust recruitment process for this which is something I'm absolutely passionate about.

"It's critical that people who have been subject to rape and sexual assault have the most specialist help to recover, because many can go on to have serious mental health issues. 

"We passionately believe in early intervention. The sooner we can speak to the person after the event, the better. Ultimately, we want people to recover, thrive and feel free."

Red Kite's catchment covers the whole of east Hertfordshire.

If you need support, you can contact Red Kite's helpline on 01279 790450. For more information, go to redkitesupport.org.uk.

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