Thursday, 11 October 2012

Clothes don't cause rape. Clothes cannot prevent rape.

There are many ways that the clothes we wear can protect us.

When I am at work, there is a dresscode that requires I wear safety glasses when walking through the warehouse because there is a lot of active machinery that could potentially shoot debris into my eyes. I also have to wear steel-toed shoes because there are forklifts and much equipment about that could pose a hazard to my precious piggies.

Even when I was working in call-centres, we would have to wear shoes that covered our toes and were thick enough to protect us from stray staples and other sharp detritus that may lay hidden in the carpet.

And then there are other jobs that I could only dream of working that have even more specific clothes built to deal with particular dangers of the trade.


Seriously, I can't photocopy in this.

There are definitely occasions when we need to dress with safety in mind.

Preventing rape is not one of those occasions.

Rape is not a workplace hazard that can be mitigated with an extra layer of fabric. I cannot wear bright, reflective tape to let rapists know that I am not the prey they are looking for.

"Well, I was going to target him, but then I saw the reflective vest and realized he wasn't the vulnerable demographic I intended to victimize."

Telling women not to wear "slutty" clothing is not safety advice, because "provocative" clothing does not increase one's chance of being targetted by a sexual predator.

According to this Duke study:
"While people perceive dress to have an impact on who is assaulted, studies of rapists suggest that victim attire is not a significant factor. Instead, rapists look for signs of passiveness and submissiveness, which, studies suggest, are more likely to coincide with more body-concealing clothing."
The same study found that people tend to assume that "provocative" clothing makes one a larger target for sexual violence. This isn't surprising, because when a myth is repeated over and over, it becomes so embedded in public consciousness that a lot of people tend to believe it without considering if they should. They just accept that the myth is the truth because they don't know any better.

This is one of the reasons we need to challenge the rape myth that clothing=protection or safety from sexual violence. Those who work with survivors of sexual violence know that victims come from all walks of life, starting from infancy up until old age. We know that the groups who are more at risk of sexual violence are persons who cannot protect themselves, such as persons with disabilites, or who have much less protection of the law due to intersectional oppression, such as trans folk, persons of colour, and sex workers (just to name a few). The sex workers are not targeted because of the clothes they wear. They are targeted because our society assigns them much less personal value and is less likely to hold their attackers accountable.

Are there ever any instances where women who are wearing "provocative" clothing are raped? Of course, because clothing doesn't cause rape and cannot protect one against rape, and rapists target people in every manner of outfit.

"But", you may ask as you play devil's advocate because you care so darned much, "But, what if we can help women to prevent even a fraction of the incidents of sexual assault by getting them to cover up?"

Well, oh-so-original-and-caring concern troll friend, I'm sure you will get some traction with that. Because there are women who were raped when wearing short skirts who will hear you or will hear your advice repeated, and who will internalize that blame. Some of those survivors, like many people, will fall back on the Just World Hypothesis in trying to make sense of what they've experienced, and will think, "If only I wore jeans that night, maybe I would have been spared."

If you fall back on the lazy tactic of trying to police wardrobes instead of the aggressive actions of abusers, you will contribute to victim-blaming and to the tools that tell rapists that if they can find any old rape myth to deflect blame from themselves, others will help them get away with their crimes. People who sincerely care about victims will help you. Survivors will help you. It's not that your tactic is unpopular, it's that it's harmful and really misses the point: the only person who decides who and when and why to sexually assault someone is the perpetrator.

The advice of, "More clothing will keep you safe," is as evidence-based and statistically sound as me selling tiger-repellant rocks. I always keep a rock in my pocket when walking through Toronto, and I have yet to be attacked by a tiger. It must mean that this rock wards off tigers, not that there haven't been any tigers to attack me.

Long story short, lecturing women on their clothing choices will not help protect them from sexual violence.

Clothes are not consent.

Men are not mindless, slavering beasts that can be attracted to attack someone, like a lion to a slab of beef.

Rapists are not some mythical force that operates on a different level than the rest of society and can easily be lured into raping someone if they happen upon an alley or wear the wrong outfit.

And, seriously, if anyone happens to chat with Dave Chappelle, give him a heartfelt "Fuck you" from me for feeding trolls with the victim-blaming "Whore's uniform." idiocy that pops up on anti-rape pages with frustrating regularity.

If you are telling women what they should wear because you are sincerely concerned about their safety, then here is some tangible safety advice that you can undertake today and pass along.

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