A UCSB student who appeared to be the victim of sexual violence was found on campus Friday morning, lying in the middle of the South Hall roundabout dressed only in a thong and torn bra.
However, the student in question was not actually a rape victim from the night before — she was an artist completing an Art 7A project about the horrors of rape and the way one’s peers would react to a victim of rape. According to artist and third-year art studio major Kiki Niebuhr, she chose to physically present herself as a rape victim in a way that was hard to ignore.
“It’s a confession project, and my confession is that I don’t have strong faith in my peers to help me out,” Niebuhr said. “We all know someone whether we know it or not that has been in a compromising situation like this. I’m very sensitive to the topic — my intent is never to harm anyone. If anything, I want to give courage to rape victims to get help. I want to encourage my peers to help someone when they need it most.”
Niebuhr began her project “Face Down,” at 8:45 a.m. Friday morning by lying in middle of the roundabout closest to South Hall, dressed only in thong underwear and a torn bra, covered with fake blood. Vulnerable and exposed, Niebuhr was ignored for nearly an hour — although a number of students would stare or stop to check her out her bloodied attire and half-naked body before moving on.
Niebuhr eventually moved to the sidewalk where it was harder for students to walk past her cries and disheveled facade. After about an hour of waiting, students and campus employees confronted Niebuhr and asked if she needed their assistance.
While on campus, two women offered Niebuhr their sweaters and groups of people came to her aid — all reacting differently when they found out the scene had been staged. As she began forlornly walking into I.V. around 10 a.m., Niebuhr started to receive much more attention — both compassionate and offensive — from students, passers-by and law enforcement.
A carful of men drove by in a truck on Pardall Road, rolling down their windows to yell “Nice butt,” despite the fake but realistic blood and tattered garments. Moments later, women dropped their bikes and ran out of businesses to talk to her.
An officer eventually approached Niebuhr on way her into I.V., saying he had received about 12 reports of a distressed woman. After Niebuhr explained the purpose of her art piece, he drove off without taking further action.
Soon, she approached Del Playa Drive where comments like, “I gotta see this shit,” “I don’t even know,” and “Oh my God, are you okay?” peppered the air. One carload of women was particularly noticeable, yelling “Rape!” and laughing together as their vehicle drove past. Some skated or biked by when they saw someone else helping out.
Interspersed with the more hateful reactions were also passers-by who comforted Niebuhr, brought towels, cried and thanked her for the message she spread.
Fourth-year film studies major Gregory Frank filmed the two-hour performance at Niebuhr’s request and said the project was inspiring.
“For me, filming Kiki’s project was a college experience unlike any other,” Frank said. “First of all, it was one of the gutsiest things I have ever seen. I thought there would be a negative backlash from the innocent bystanders who might get angry for being deceived in a way, but the longer I kept filming, the more it became apparent that people were genuinely touched by Kiki’s actions.”
Niebuhr said her performance, while simulated, was not complete fiction — she drew inspiration for her project from the horrific experiences relayed her by loved ones who had suffered sexual assault.
According to Niebuhr, the project was both therapeutic and surprising.
“I had no faith in my peers to help me out, and I was surprised that they did,” Niebuhr said. “This has all been so cool.”