Display intends to raise sexual assault awareness

BY BEN MARKS | APRIL 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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One is a T-shirt with jeans, one is a U.S. Army uniform, one is a dress for a 6-year-old girl — they are all the outfits worn by victims of sexual assault at the time of their attacks.

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness month, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program and the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Hospital partnered for a Survivor Art Installation held at the VA hospital.

The installation was composed of 11 outfits, eight of them replicas of the clothes sexual-assault victims wore at the time they were assaulted, along with small descriptions their attacks.

One of the descriptions reads, “A sun dress. Months later, my mother stood in front of my closet and complained about how I never wore any of my dresses anymore. I was 6 years old.”

Three of the outfits were donated by members of the armed forces and were the actual clothes worn during the assault.

Barb Duder, a program support assistant for the VA, was one of the people who approached RVAP Executive Director Jennifer Carlson with the idea of a partnership for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Duder said the VA’s goals with the display were to continue educating staff on issues of sexual assault, help armed-forces survivors of sexual assault know they are not alone, as well as confront the reality of the high rates of sexual assault in the military.

According to data released by the Defense Department in December 2014, out of the 170,000 surveyed troops, 11.7 percent of them reported at least one incident of “unwanted sexual contact” in the past year.

Along with the clothing display, there was also a presentation on the “Neurobiology of Trauma,” in which Carlson educated staff on empathetic victim interviewing and response, as well as the neurobiological changes that victims undergo after trauma.

The clothing represented a wide range of victims, including men and women and children as young as 6, as well as the wide range of activities the victims were doing when the attacks occurred, such as swimming, drinking, sleeping, or hanging out with friends.

“It confronts the myth that clothing causes rape,” Carlson said.

Rick Bucher, the program manager for Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, was one of the attendees of the event and said seeing the outfits was “disturbing.”

“I’ve been in the military for 26 years, and I’ve never had direct experience with any of that, but I’m not surprised,” he said. “But the little girls dress especially disturbed me, and then the Army uniform, to think others can do that to somebody …”

Military sexual-trauma coordinator Sara Kellogg, who helped organize the event, and said although it was a little stressful coordinating her first event at the VA, she thought it was very rewarding seeing everything come together.

“Obviously, it’s upsetting for a lot of people, but breaking the silence, shedding light on it and bringing awareness is very important,” she said.

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