NEW YORK, USA - Rise, a civil rights accelerator that helps everyday citizens pen their own rights into existence, marked the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence by collaborating with Spotlight Initiative on an art exhibit at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The exhibit is meant to bring attention to the barriers to justice faced by global survivors of sexual violence and demonstrate the pervasiveness of sexual assault and the many different faces of survivors among us. 

The “What Were You Wearing?” art exhibit at UNHQ invites UN visitors and diplomats alike to observe the outfits worn by sexual assault survivors at the time of their attack. The five outfits were contributed by a survivor from each of the five UN Regional Groups (African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States, Western European and other States). Viewers can see the diversity of the outfits--in terms of age, gender, culture, and occasion.

“What we were wearing at the time of our attack was not an invitation for violence. What we were wearing did not cause the attack; only our perpetrators caused the attack." - Amanda Nguyen, CEO and Founder of Rise.

In addition to placing a spotlight on global survivors of sexual assault, the exhibit seeks to subvert the phrase, “What were you wearing?,” a common question of survivors which re-traumatizes and blames them for the crime perpetrated against them. Rise previously sought to reclaim this phrase through its first-ever survivor fashion show held earlier this year.

“What we were wearing at the time of our attack was not an invitation for violence. What we were wearing did not cause the attack; only our perpetrators caused the attack. What we were wearing is irrelevant,” said Amanda Nguyen, CEO and Founder of Rise. “By boldly answering the question and showing the world what we were wearing, we see an opportunity to open minds and shift attitudes about what sexual assault looks like.”

The five outfits contributed by a survivor from each of the five UN Regional Groups are now on display at the UN Headquarters Visitor's Lobby. Photo: RISE/Andrew White

“Art has always been a medium to open people’s hearts and minds to different perspectives,” said Koye Adeboye, Communications Lead at Spotlight Initiative. “I hope this powerful exhibition becomes a catalyst for conversations about the rights of all women and girls to live free from violence — and our collective responsibility to ensure violence against women and girls is eliminated by 2030.”

Sexual violence is a universal issue that demands international recognition. According to the World Health Organization, 35% of women worldwide - 1.3 billion people - are sexual violence survivors. However, the United Nations General Assembly has never passed a resolution focused solely on protections for sexual violence survivors. Around the world, people are demanding recognition and justice for survivors who are denied basic rights and access to information and justice.

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new agenda item (134) introduced by Sierra Leone and championed by Rise to enshrine access to justice globally for sexual assault survivors, which permanently places the topic of sexual violence on the UNGA agenda to be discussed each year by UN Member States. In a historic speech before the General Assembly, H.E. President Bio of Sierra Leone declared, “Let this be the year that the United Nations will give all survivors of sexual violence the remedy they deserve.” The speech marked the first time that the more than 1.3 billion survivors of sexual violence were verbally recognized in the UN General Assembly agenda and the first time that the rights of all survivors will be discussed as a standalone issue outside of conflict.

About Rise

Rise is a civil rights accelerator that empowers everyday citizens to pen their own rights into existence. Rise holds America’s record for being the most efficient social movement in modern U.S. history by unanimously passing 4 laws impacting over 97.2 million people. Rise is led by Amanda Nguyen, a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Harvard graduate, Forbes Under 30 honoree, and Marie Claire’s Woman of the Year recipient who penned her own civil rights into existence at age 24 by creating and passing the Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights. Learn more and join the movement at www.risenow.us.

About Spotlight Initiative

Spotlight Initiative is a global, multi-year partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Launched in 2017 with a seed funding commitment of €500 million from the European Union, the Initiative represents an unprecedented global effort to invest in gender equality and women’s empowerment as a precondition and driver for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more at www.spotlightinitiative.org.