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’What were you wearing?” Sexual assault has no uniform

Posted Jun 22, 2018 at 1:01 AM

Updated Jun 25, 2018 at 8:24 AM

Eisetta Gaines, an incoming junior at Hutchinson High School, walked the runway in khaki shorts and a cotton tank top.

In the background, a narrator told the story of a woman who wore similar clothes when she was raped after a date. It was a true story; it just wasn’t Gaines’ story.

“I was told by a friend to keep the clothes I was wearing in case I decided to report it,” narrator Bailey Basinger-Stiggins said Thursday, repeating the survivor’s story. “They were still hidden in a bag inside my closet.”

The first-ever runway event at the Hutchinson Art Center brought some of the 150 people in attendance, and others who watched a live broadcast by The News on Facebook. It also helped introduce to the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center’s rebranding to BrightHouse.

Gaines’ friend, Mariah Johnson, also walked down the runway in a cheerleading outfit as Basinger-Stiggins told another story of a teenager who no longer wanted to wear the outfit after being sexually assaulted.

Another person wore sweatpants and a T-Shirt; someone else had on an outfit for work as a waitress.

The two teenagers were surprised to learn the stories of the people whose shoes they walked in --that it didn’t matter where they were or what they wore.

“It’s very unsettling and disturbing to think about,” Johnson said. “It opens your eyes up.”

They were most disturbed by the story of a 6-year-old girl being molested. A little girl with blonde hair walked down the runway while the narrator told the story.

Men also walked the runway.

One in three women and one in four men in the U.S. have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. An average of 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute.

Christine Vierya-Vargus told her own story about being drugged and raped by a friend.

“And this is what I was wearing,” she said of her denim skirt and loose-fitting casual blouse.

The art center also had a “What Were You Wearing? Survivor Art Installation” on display in the front room with outfits hanging next to stories of sexual abuse.

Nikki Brooks, a victim advocate at BrightHouse, said the idea came from a story she read about a display on the University of Kansas.

One display had a U.S. Army uniform. Alongside, it stated: “Army (outfit) and I was carrying a gun. So much for that preventing anything.” There was also displays of pajamas, workout attire and a sports jersey.

New name

Melinda Young, a board member of the organization for five years, said it would take time for her to adjust to the name change. She agreed it’s for the best. Young was the high bidder on a photograph donated by Dave McKane during a silent auction after the runway show.

She bid on other artwork as well. She liked the artwork and the cause.

Forty-two pieces of art were donated by local artists to raise money for BrightHouse.

Executive Director Donna Davis said the art and donations raised about $5,000.

Those in attendance enjoyed food, wine and cake after the runway show.

BowerComm, a marketing company hired by BrightHouse to do the rebrand, came up with the idea for the runway show. BrightHouse used a $25,000 grant from the Hutchinson Community Foundation in November 2017 to hire the marketing company.

The rebrand includes a website and logo.

The models ended the runway by all walking out, one after the other, with purple T-Shirts that had “BrightHouse” and “Lighting the way to end abuse.”

About BrightHouse

Since 1976, Davis said the nonprofit had been named the Coalition Against Spousal Abuse, Rape Hotline, Victims of Abuse Network and, of course, the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center.

Over a year period, Davis said, the nonprofit has provided housing for 91 people including 37 children and responded to over 1,500 calls.

“We exist to help victim’s and to work on prevention because the next generation is where change starts,” Davis said. “At BrightHouse, we want to work ourselves out of a job. And through this rebrand, we are going to refocus and strengthen our effort to engage the community.”

BrightHouse has a 24/7 crisis line at 620-663-2522 or 1-800-701-3630.

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