Of all the questions asked of victims of sexual assault, none may be more haunting than "What were you wearing?" It implies that women are responsible for inviting sexual violence simply by dressing or behaving a certain way, that by going about their daily lives they are somehow "asking for it."
In her photo series, Well, What Were You Wearing?, photographer Katherine Cambareri explores this question and its layered implications.
"Sexual assault never occurs for any reason other than a person deciding to assault someone else," Cambareri wrote in an email. "[It] is never the fault of the person who is assaulted." Yet the impulse to blame victims is so ingrained in our cultural response that questions regarding survivors' perceived culpability are almost routine.
Cambareri used Facebook to find participants and asked those willing to send the clothes they were wearing when they were assaulted to be photographed. Set against a plain black background, the ordinary garments — ripped jeans, a T-shirt, a baggy sweater — speak for themselves, each a ghostly echo of its owner's past trauma.
"It is strange being able to hold clothing in such a calm setting knowing that it was part of an experience that upset someone so much," she said. Cambareri hopes the photos will prompt discussion about sexual assault and plans to continue the project for as long as necessary. "I'm not sure if and when it will ever end, because I unfortunately do not think sexual assault will end anytime soon," she said.
Below, see the powerful images she and victims of sexual assault created.