Sexual Assault and What Women Wear

  • She was all over me, so she was asking for it.
  • She was drunk, so she must have have asked for it.
  • She wore [insert literally any clothing you find attractive here], so she had to have asked for it.
  • She answered when I said, “hello beautiful.” She asked for it.

If these statements seem crazy, it’s because they are. Still, I see them used every day as an excuse for sexual assault. Then people wonder why a girl walking down the street hears someone say, “hi there,” and finches in fear. Too often, it seems any acknowledgement at all can be used as an excuse for assault in the future.

I am not by any means saying this is logical. Certainly 99% of people saying hello are the street are reasonably kind people. An acknowledgement that one looks attractive isn’t really the opposite of a compliment either. We get mixed messages in this world, though. From a very young age, the female gender is taught to fear the male gender. More men than women in my life have told me that men are animals. Statistically, one in six women will face an attempted or completed rape. Those are scary odds. I bet very few people live in America who don’t know at least one person who has experienced a sexual assault.

While those numbers may be true, is it really worth the fear of men? There are other numbers which are just as true, but are rarely spoken of. More than 70% of rape victims know their rapist. Over 50% of rapes happen within one mile of the victims home.  Turns out the average story is not about a drunk girl being taken advantage of. It is about a girl near her home, with someone she trusts and without the willful inhibitions of drugs.

Why is this not the story we are told? Why are school focusing on girls who wear leggings instead of the real problem. The way a person looks or acts does not mean they are asking for anything. Even if a person dresses to attract another, an onlooker has no way of knowing if they desire sex or something else.

This should all be really quite simple. No means no. If you are not sure a person is saying yes or no, clarify. A friend of mine once suggest colleges should promote sex consent forms. At first, I thought this was crazy stupid. Who would ever sign a piece of paper as a condition of having sex? Then I thought about why. Why would someone be turned off by being desired? Many men I know can’t get it up if they feel like the person they are with isn’t into the act. Someone trying to fight them off or not moving at all due to fear or drugs would be just as unattractive. But then, rape and assault isn’t so much about arousal due to physical attraction as it is arousal due to power (that’s a whole different blog, though).

The real problem with such an idea is the ease with which is could be foiled. All you have to do is forge a signature. If you make the pact with a finger print, that’s not hard to get once a person is incapacitated. Would recorded voice consent count if the person was drunk?

This photo, “Ankle” is copyright (c) 2014 Quinn Dombrowski and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “Ankle” is copyright (c) 2014 Quinn Dombrowski and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

We’re probably far away from a definition of consent we can all agree on, but I think it’s safe to say most of us believe no means no. I kind of wish the mantra was yes means yes… but I don’t make the rules. We’d see a lot of improvement if we didn’t start blaming a girl for her dress and actions. Can’t a girl make out with someone without the intention of going further? Can’t she wear leggings to feel good about herself without fearing she’ll be assaulted?

My main problem with the argument about clothes is that it’s cultural. What is and isn’t attractive clothing differs depending on your opinion. Maybe one person gets turned on by leggings but the other gets turned on my ankles. What then? Are we going to tell all women to cover their ankles or are we going to tell men that the exposure of attractive ankles don’t give them a right to assault someone?

I admit that this whole post has been very heteronormative, but it’s hard to be otherwise in the context of current assault stereotypes. Once we let go of the idea that what you wear is not an invitation, we can start to focus on the real reasons. We can start to address assaults on all genders by all genders.

If we can let go of the idea that the victim must have some kind of fault in their attack and erase their fears that they will be condemned, perhaps more will come forward. Maybe men and women of all sexualities will speak out, no longer afraid they will be blamed.

Maybe we can finally start to blame sexual assaults on the assailants and not on the miniskirts.

Did you know that most sexual assaults happen by trusted persons and close to the victims home? Why do you think we focus on clothing even though it’s not an indicator of assault risks? Would you find signing a sex consent form before knocking boots arousing or tedious?


35 thoughts on “Sexual Assault and What Women Wear”

  1. It is a terrible thing that the male of the species – albeit just a few – are so vile. I shall never understand why for it is alien to me and I have no desire to fathom the mindset of evil. A very worthy post.

    1. Well, it can also be said that few in the female gender are also vile. The thing is, it’s not really male or female. Some people are just terrible people. When a person attacks another it is wrong (unless it’s in self defense).

      1. True words – yet on balance it is the male of the species who, when it comes to violent crime are and always have been predominant. Must be this ‘alpha’ quest I think that lets some of my kind down.

  2. “If we can let go of the idea that the victim must have some kind of fault in their attack and erase their fears that they will be condemned, perhaps more will come forward. Maybe men and women of all sexualities will speak out, no longer afraid they will be blamed.”

    To believe that the victim is to blame is to be completely deluded about the way things work. They never seem to blame the rapists, but often blame their victims. What is up with that?

    1. I know! I mean, say someone’s house get’s broken into. They don’t spend weeks going through stupid questions like “did you leave your house unlocked?” “Did you leave a light on?” “Did you dress your house in an inviting manner?” Because it doesn’t matter. Even though the answers to some of those questions should be obvious, their answers don’t matter. Someone broke in and they were wrong. Period.

  3. This is a subject I am passionate about as a woman, as a feminist, as a human. I think part of the problem is that too much of the focus is on victimology, on analyzing what the victim did “wrong”, on teaching girls and women what to do and what not to do in order to evade potential sexual assault. That’s fine except that often the tropes associated with sexual assault don’t even stand up: you can be raped while wearing ugly tracksuit bottoms just as you can be raped wearing a mini skirt. My main issue with this approach though is that I think the focus needs to be on preventing males from becoming sexual aggressors and I don’t see that happening as much as I see the messages to girls about watching their drinks, not dressing provocatively (whatever that means), not walking alone….

    Honestly, as the mother of four sons I am already laying the groundwork. Now obviously I’m working on the assumption that my sons are not going to become rapists but the messages we teach our children have importance in many areas and aspects of life so there’s crossover. My kids are told about empathy, compassion, self-respect and respect for others, about control over your own and others bodies (eg if they say they don’t want tickled then they don’t get tickled, if they don’t want to hug or kiss a relative then they are not compelled to), about consent (eg asking permission and requiring a clear answer) … All stuff that lays the scaffolding for many areas of life including future conversations about sexual consent when they are old enough for that chat. I will also teach them about protecting themselves, of course, since men can be the victims of sexual assault also.

    I guess my approach is born out of experience. When I was at school, my friend’s older sister was raped and left for dead. Part of my school’s reaction was to invite in a tutor who taught the girls practical self-defense, using what you have to fend off a potential assailant. It was good stuff but even at that age (I think I was 14) I remember wondering why the boys were not receiving a corresponding class. Why was the onus on the females to protect themselves and not on the males to not become perpetrators of sexual violence in the first place? That’s stayed with me and is why I fundamentally believe the locus of the discussion needs to shift from victim to perpetrator prevention.

    1. “if they say they don’t want tickled then they don’t get tickled, if they don’t want to hug or kiss a relative then they are not compelled to”

      I wish more parents were like this with their children.

      1. Thank you. So much of parenting is down to instinct and this was something I instinctively felt was important. It’s always good to know that other people think it is a sound decision.

    2. It’s so important to teach boys not to rape – not that we expect them to become rapists. It’s just that they need to really understand what it means. I just had a conversation on Halloween about this. I said it needs to be taught like we say parents shouldn’t yell in front of their children. Can we stop it from happening? No. But, can we make sure every person knows it’s a bad idea and knows that – when taken to an extreme – the law might get involved? Yes. Can we stop men (and women) from having sex with a drunk person? No. Can we make sure every person knows having sex when drunk or with a drunk person should only be done with a trusted person because a drunk person cannot legally consent to sex? yes.

      As a girl, I was told never to wear my hair in a ponytail. Such styles are common of rape victims (I have no idea if that is true). I was also told to keep my hair long because boys like girls with long hair, not short hair. There’s not winning. We’re told to be attractive but then to not be attractive. It’s just nuts.

      1. I wholeheartedly agree. I also think that some young men in particular do not even identify that the act they have jusy committed constitutes rape because they are not as aware as they ought to be about what qualifies as consent. That does not negate their culpability, of course, but it suggests that education could reduce the high rate of sexual violence on campuses, for instance.

        1. Exactly. I hear time and time again that getting a girl drunk is a fast way to get laid. I worry that boys and men get the wrong message. A person who may not be a rapist may become one because they think what they do isn’t rape.

          1. Indeed. And I think rape goes undereported partly because some women don’t appreciate that what happened to them was a sexual assault. It comes down to ignorance.

  4. Most cases occur near victim’s home because they(alleged) know them properly, like what does she(victim) do, is she coward?, she has a boyfriend, weakness, secret, or perhaps they assume that she wont deny them to have sex !
    Basically they take time, study the behaviour and wait for the opportunity.

    1. Be brave and have some really good friends. Preferably boys. This wouldn’t give them enough courage to even tease her.
    2. Life decently and keep a clean image. Don’t wear too nasty clothes.
    3. Keep a distance from strangers. Don’t become frank to everyone you come across.
    4. Never share you secrets. Don’t disclose everything like where are u now, where u are going, etc.. not even on social networks ! As most of the accuse are some close ones.

    Rahul Ranjan

    1. I’m afraid that wouldn’t do too much as the people someone puts their trust in are the most likely attackers. I take offense to the idea someone’s clothing and lifestyle puts them at more risk. Not only does that not fit the statistics in the least, but – as I said in my post – clothing and such is cultural. What is and isn’t attractive is different to each person and doesn’t matter in either case. Being attracted to someone is no excuse for attacking them.

      1. I agree. I was once walking in daylight down a busy street when someone began harassing me, and then tried to drag me away. I was the definition of “live decently and keep a clean image.”

        Earlier that year, I had a stalker. My roommate told me I was “too nice” and thus I attracted creeps. I hated that I was expected to change who I was, my attitude, my personality in order to just go to class and feel safe. And when I went home people would remark, “You used to be so sweet. I told you college changes you into one them liberal people!”

        I just wanted to scream. I wasn’t allowed to be nice. I wasn’t allowed to set clear boundaries. No matter what I did, it was my fault.

        It’s confusing and way too much to put on a woman. We need more emphasis on it being the attacker’s fault rather than the victim. And we need to stop giving girls mixed signals about what they are supposed to be and do.

        Even though someone physically grabbed me and tried to pull me away, I still froze up and doubted myself. I must be making a bigger deal out of it than it is. We need to teach young people that it is a big deal and to not doubt themselves when someone is doing something to you that you don’t want them to do.

        1. The way we talk, I think it is common for the first thought that enters a woman’s mind to be “what did I do to deserve this?” The world tells us we must have done something. It seems that something is often merely existing.

  5. When I read about the idea of having to walk around with a sexual consent form, I got a little sick. It shows society has come to a state of mind in which individuals cannot feel safe at all with one another, unless some piece of paper says we’re “officially protected”. Human rights should be a given, and, let’s make no mistake about it, sexual consent is a human right.

    Then again, I think about how a nation’s constitution protects its citizens, and wonder if we always had a need to formalize what is inalienable.

    1. It is a bit odd to have to formalize what is inalienable, but so we have. So long as there are people who do not believe human rights belong to all, we will have to formalize them.

  6. I hate the idea of signed consent forms, but that is because I know someone whose signature WAS forged and used to ‘justify’ repeated, violent sexual assault. (‘What do you mean, you didn’t want him to do that to you? You can’t say no — he has your signature on this paper giving him permission to do it.’) I hate the idea that someone can just put another person’s name on a piece of paper and then claim to have been given the right to do whatever they want to them.

    I think some people focus on clothing because they want to feel that there is a way to protect themselves or those they care about: a parent may think ‘If I don’t let my daughter wear x style of clothing, I don’t have to worry about her being sexually assaulted.’ (As far as such things go, there are studies suggesting rapists are more likely to go after a woman who is dressed especially modestly, because that is seen as an indicator of religious views or whatever that would prevent her from reporting that she’d been raped. So not only does the ‘dress modestly and you’ll be fin'” thing not work, it actually backfires sometimes.) In this way, they are much like people who think, ‘If I don’t drive a car between such-and-such hours or on such-and-such roads, I don’t have to worry about being in a traffic accident’ — except that traffic accidents sometimes just happen (that’s why they’re called accidents), and rape is always a result of a person choosing to rape. The fault always lies with the person committing the assault.

    The only way to prevent rape is to teach people not to rape.

    1. I very much agree. I can’t actually think of anything that would definitively prove consent. Even a recording of a person saying yes can be faked or coerced. Teaching people not to rape might not erase all rape, but certainly it would do something.

  7. When I think about how you said you wish it was yes means yes, I get to thinking, that might not be any better than no means no. I mean a guy might think that a woman’s non verbal actions might mean yes. For a horrific example, if they were drunk and the woman was making out and getting all hot and heavy with him and let say she blacks out or even passes out or close to it, he might think, well she was game for it, that’s where it was leading so I know she wants it so I’ll give it to her and he rapes her all the while the guy, not saying he is right, but he thinks she said yes in her actions before the deed so yes means yes. I mean I still think in this scenario that he obviously is in the wrong and shouldn’t touch her if she doesn’t at least give verbal consent all the way up to penetration but again, he could be thinking she already said yes so yes means yes. but then in this same scenario, she didn’t say no either, so no means no wouldn’t apply either. hmmm…. guys should just keep their penises to themselves. end of story. lol

    1. Well, I guess I was saying it should be a verbal yes. A person must say “yes, I want to have sex with you now,” or some variation of that, for it to be consider consensual. But, for every way to prove consent, I can think of ways to get around it. People just need to learn to respect each other. Never attack, never harm and never rape. And, if you are drunk and/or the person you are with is drunk, be sure they are someone you trust before having sex with them. Because legally a drunk person cannot consent.

  8. This is such a good read! Patriarchy dominates in almost every society in the world.( And i am saying this not to strengthen stereotypes because men suffer in stereotypes too. ) People always put the blame on women as if they are asking for it, which lets people forget about the real issue. RAPE IS A CRIME and again, women have all the rights in the world how to dress and how to act.

    1. Exactly. I consider myself a feminists, but the feminist movement is not beyond criticism. I think there are many issues, rape included, that would benefit from having ideas of gender are moved. Anyone can rape and anyone can be raped. No one is at fault for their rape.

        1. Feminism is the belife in gender equality, so I have nothing wrong with the term. I could say I’m an equalist, who believes everyone is equal, but that dosen’t help each movement. Somewhere, there’s a gay man who dosen’t believe in gender equality. Somewhere, there’s a feminist who dosen’t believe in racial equality. I don’t agree with people like that, but in order for each movement to make progress, I can see why they need to be specific.

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