The Ann Foxworthy Gallery at Allan Hancock College hosted a traveling exhibit last week, one with modern-day connections, while delivering a powerful emotional impact.
It’s called the “What Were You Wearing” exhibit, and the centerpieces are outfits, women’s clothing, accompanied by brief stories from girls and women about what clothes they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted.
It used to be you couldn’t really talk about these kinds of things in a family newspaper. Times have changed, and last week’s exhibit demonstrated just how important it is that every community, every neighborhood and every household have these sorts of conversations.
The project originated at the University of Arkansas. The local exhibit, which ended last Thursday, included two displays from survivors at the Sexual Assault Prevention Response office at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and two from survivors at the Rape Crisis Center's Lompoc office.
The point of the exhibit was, and continues to be to alter people’s perceptions of what a victim of sexual assault actually is — a human being, someone like you, a person with feelings who can experience real physical, emotional and psychological damage. The national exhibit in its expanded form includes clothing and stories from female and male victims.
A week before the “What Were You Wearing” exhibit closed down in Santa Maria, people of all ages and gender held a human-trafficking vigil hosted by the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center at Lompoc's Foursquare Church in Lompoc.
Human trafficking and sexual assault are inextricably linked and, sadly, far too widespread in our society. The former relies mostly on social media connections, lies and deceit. The latter is a function of wanton disrespect for fundamental human rights.
The focus at the Lompoc vigil was on protecting our children, mostly pre-teens, teens and young adults who are targeted by trafficking predators.
These kinds of events, uncomfortable as they may be for many people, are vitally essential to preventing the spread of a dangerous disease in our communities — a disease whose foundation is buried in the sickest of human minds.
Kathleen Ramos, a counselor with the Rape Crisis Center, made it clear to attendees that although North County is relatively small, human trafficking happens here: “It is up to all of us to … educate the youth who are being affected by this, and it's time for us to say, ‘No more. We’re not afraid to talk about this topic.’”
The vigil also promoted a common, but crucial message for parents. Lompoc Police Capt. Kevin Martin said: “Parents, you want to know what's going on in your child's life? Kids aren't gonna like me right now, (but) look in their phone. … But more importantly than looking in the phones, keep communication open with your kid.”
The “What Were You Wearing” exhibit forces us to examine attitudes and beliefs about sexual assault, and that what a person chooses to wear should not open them to any kind of assault.
The human-traffic vigil helps open the public’s eyes to a problem that could, and too often does intersect with and destroy families. We are not too small to have big-city problems.
Both events serve as reminders of how important it is for communities and their residents to get problems out in the open, no matter how uncomfortable or sensitive, and talk about first finding common ground, then agreeing on possible solutions.
That’s how a united neighborhood, town, county, state and nation are supposed to work. Because if we can’t do that, as a society we are in very deep trouble.
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