Too often when a victim of sexual assault or harrassment comes forward to share their story, they are overwhelmed with questions that scrutinize their actions rather than those of their perpetrator.
One of the most frustrating questions has to be, “What were they wearing?”
This problematic question implies that victims provoke their own sexual assault. Placing the burden of assault onto a victim is known as victim blaming. This attitude suggests their assault was preventable had they not provoked a rapist to, well, rape.
This attitude that we should dress to avoid rape can add the emotional trama for victims of sexual assault and provides an excuse for the actions of the rapist.
First, this attitude shoves victims into a closet, shaming their voices. Surviving an assault is a feat in itself, as many survivors are already dealing with feelings of shame and guilt after a sexual assault.
However, taking the next step of sharing your experience requires a great amount of courage. As a society, we are silencing victims and are negating the validity of their experiences when we undermine them with such a trivial question.
Secondly, asking a victim what they were wearing unnecessarily sexualizes their body. The argument that a woman wearing revealing clothing warrants her assault is an objectification of her body as nothing more than a sexual conquest. To think that a low-cut top or high-rise shorts can cause a rape rather than a rapist is essentially saying a victim was “asking for it.”
Furthermore, many women can attest that our bodies are sexualized no matter what clothing we’re in. Fully clothed, women are harassed and raped because women aren’t viewed with the dignity and respect that distinguishes them from a sexual object in the first place.
This question also protects the rapist rather than the victim. Rapists are insulated from accountability if they can say they raped someone simply because their victim chose to wear a “rape inducing” outfit. Victim blaming is only an enabler for perpetrators to continue to commit egregious offenses by offering them a scapegoat to avoid punishment for their wrongdoings.
Lastly, victim blaming offers no real solution to the issue of rape. Rather, it merely pushes the blame elsewhere. Advising that women dress conservatively to avoid assault is misguided. It only instills more shame on victims of assault who may not be dressed to those standards.
Victim blaming isn’t constructive in comforting the victim or confronting the issue at hand. Rather, we should show our trust in victims by providing them with comfort in statements like, “It’s not your fault,” “You have options” and “How can I support you?”
So the next time someone poses the question, “What were they wearing?” remember: an outfit can’t give consent.
Athena Jreij is a freshman majoring in journalism. Follow her Twitter @goddsz.