The exhibition titled “What Were You Wearing?” has opened its doors in Brussels from 20 June until 1 July, captivating visitors with its thought-provoking exploration of victim-blaming and sexual violence.
Organised by the Spotlight Initiative, a UN-EU partnership to end violence against women and girls, and Rise, a survivor-led civil rights organisation, the exhibition aims to challenge society’s preconceived notions about sexual assault survivors and subvert the phrase “What were you wearing?” – a question that is too often used to blame survivors for the crime perpetrated against them.
Located at the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region, the exhibition invites visitors to engage with a series of 103 outfits worn by rape survivors at the time they were attacked, representing the 1.3 billion survivors of sexual assault worldwide. The diversity of the outfits – in terms of age, gender, and culture – demonstrates that what survivors were wearing is irrelevant. The exhibition is intended to expose the pervasiveness of the crime of sexual assault.
Platform for survivors
At the opening, Amanda Nguyen, survivor, Rise Founder and CEO, said: “No one is powerless when we come together and no one is invisible when we demand to be seen. So, demand to be seen. We give survivors a platform with this exhibition and are proud that we can bring it to Belgium to reach an international audience.”
International and local issue
Sexual assault knows no boundaries and constitutes a gross violation of human rights. The World Health Organization estimates that 35% of all women worldwide have survived sexual violence. In Belgium, 64% of people between 16 and 69 years of age have experienced sexual misconduct in their lives (4/5 girls and women, 1/2 boys and men). Despite the exposure of a large proportion of Belgian women to such violence, only 37,629 lawsuits have been filed by the police in 2018 for physical and/or sexual violence and 3,285 for rape.
According to Spotlight Initiative’s 2023 Annual Report, the partnership has contributed to doubling the conviction rate for perpetrators of gender-based violence across 12 countries, while 2 million men and boys have been educated on positive masculinity and non-violent conflict resolution.
Visit the exhibition
The exhibition is free and runs until 1 July at the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region. Opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00.
Need someone to talk to?
As a victim and support person, you can call, email or go to a Sexual Assault Centre. You can find the contact details of these centres across Belgium and additional information here.
- Spotlight Initiative: What were you wearing?
- Spotlight Initiative: What were you wearing? UN exhibit demands justice for survivors of sexual violence.
- “What Were You Wearing?” Survivors of sexual assault speak up