“Don’t dress in revealing clothing, because then you’re asking for it.” How many times have you heard something similar to that being told to you or your female friends? Unfortunately, this is a very common piece of unhelpful and judgmental advice that our society seems to obsess over.
When it comes to conversations about an incident of sexual assault, the topic of how the survivor was dressed at the time always seems to come up. If she (and yes, these comments are only ever applied to women) was dressed in any way that society can interpret as “sexy,” “revealing,” or “provocative,” then this becomes a factor worth mentioning. But why is this even relevant when someone assaults a woman?
The problem is that our society holds some ridiculous beliefs around how revealing clothes supposedly increase the risk of sexual assault.
First, we think that perpetrators are sex-crazed men who can’t control themselves at the mere sight of a woman dressed in provocative clothes.
In reality, sexual violence is not about sex – that’s a myth!
So whether you’re wearing a short skirt or snow pants, it doesn’t make a difference, because sexual assault is about exerting power and control over someone else.
Clothes are not a risk factor. The only risk factor is the presence of a rapist. And really, if the issue was about perpetrators not being able control themselves around women dressed in revealing clothing, then rates of sexual assault at beaches, pools, and fashion shows would be out of control.
Second, there is a messed up idea that women dressing in revealing clothes are “asking for it”. Women, and men for that matter, dress in many different ways for many different reasons. Even if someone is dressing sexy because they want to have sex, they still get the choice of who and when. No one dresses sexy because they want to be raped. This ridiculous idea is well explored by some excellent ads in the U.K.: “Not Ever” and “Nobody Asks to be Raped.”
Unfortunately there are many examples of this myth in the media:
The clear reality, as stated by research looking at both sexual assault and sexual harassment is that clothing is not a significant factor in sexual violence.