Girl, 20, raped in the early hours of Sunday morning.
‘What was she wearing? Was she showing too much skin. Why was she walking alone at that time? She was probably drunk. She should have got a taxi home.’
Victim blaming. I frequently hear saddening reactions like the above in response to accounts of sexual abuse, where people attribute blame to the victim and search for a reason for the assault in their morals, clothing and alcohol intake. The victim is often blamed for something which wasn’t their fault and if the guilt from victim blaming wasn’t enough, regularly people are subject to victim shaming; a term which encompasses, causing the victim to feel embarrassed about an outfit or ashamed for having a drink on a night out, amongst other elements of emotional abuse. Blaming and shaming the victim dismantles and disregards the dangerous and domineering role that the abuser crucially played. It promotes rape culture. In 2011 a member of the Toronto Police Force said, ‘I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised’. Through villainising the victim, the attacker is excused, and the abuser is coerced into the belief that their actions were justified and that they had licence to rape.
Imagine that instead of the above headline, you read ‘Girl, 20, mauled by a shark in Australia’. Instead of questioning whether she was alone or how far out at sea she was, you feel sympathy You don’t seek to pick her story apart but blame the shark before reading the article below the headline. We quickly point the finger of blame to the perpetrator, even with the understanding that the shark is acting on its primitive behaviours as a predator. What happens to the first girl, who demands our sympathy and understanding? Why are we less trusting of her version of events where sexual assault is concerned? Understandably these double standards, when the divide between right and wrong is so blindingly obvious, are infuriating.
This issue was rife in my uniform-free sixth form, where girls couldn’t wear tops showing any stomach or revealing a risqué amount of back. Influences from the media’s portrayal of sexual assault have allowed this issue to manifest and convince young girls that their bodies are the reason for the assault. I would welcome this rule if it was established to ensure suitable attire within an educational environment, however I recall seeing boys around the school grounds topless, so it’s safe to say this was not the case. These rules existed to ensure the female body was not a distraction to boys. Erykah Badu tweeted, ‘do I think it is unnatural for a heterosexual male to be attracted to a young woman in a revealing skirt? No. I think it is his nature’. She then went on to post ‘males should be taught to be responsible for their actions from childhood…it’s not okay to prey on young women’. The point that Badu makes is strong in emphasising that it may be ‘natural’ to be drawn to girls dressed in skimpy clothing but acting in a predatory manner is not acceptable and neither is allowing abuse to manifest from this. Boys should control their impulses, in the same way society assumes girls are able to. People tend to believe that men act at the mercy of their hormones and so dismiss their accountability with flippant phrases like ‘boys will be boys’, and so boys will continue to be boys for as long as society allows them to be. They will continue to push boundaries, knowing that this phrase will serve as an excuse. Boys should be encouraged to take ownership of their actions and accept the consequences, as Badu says, ‘from childhood’.
Personally, I think there needs to be consistency. If girls can’t wear vests at school, then boys shouldn’t wear vests at school. If boys can wear shorts to school, then equally, as should girls. As I’ve mentioned before I am a feminist and often when I say this, people assume that I hate men and think that women should be able to do as they please. Wrong. I don’t hate men and I believe that there should be boundaries for women. There should be rules, but being a feminist means that you expect these boundaries to be the same for men as for women. You only welcome such boundaries if they are equal. Obviously, not everything is always appropriate to wear to school, low cut tops for example, but there should be an equal standard around this. Breasts away, pecs away.
I think schools should consider their rules of dress, as there should be one rule for all, or no rules at all. Girls and boys are raised very differently, and this is because as a society, we are aware of the dangers that arise when girls ‘show too much skin’. The culture of victim blaming and victim shaming, stems back to the indifference of the basic human characteristic to recognise right from wrong. However, we need to confront this and recognise that a woman’s clothing, shouldn’t make the attack justifiable. Teach abusers not to abuse. Teach rapists not to rape. The perpetrators need to take responsibility for their actions. Through failing to do the above, we unconsciously promote rape culture and I’m sure no one wants to be an advocate of that.