Blame it on her clothes… and "biology"!

The following article originally appeared on the author’s Man Up! blog and has been reposted with the author’s permission.  David Belt is the Man Up! Program Coordinator for the Missouri Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.

Working in the field of sexual violence prevention, we regularly bump up against men (and women) that – though they report they are “totally against rape” – think that women should be more careful with what they wear when they are out and about.  Some even add in, “… because men biologically can’t control themselves when aroused…”

The following comment from a ‘well-meaning’ father appeared in a response to a recent blog posted on the UMKC Women’s Center blog page.  It is a sentiment that has been echoed by many before and throughout our culture:

“As the father of a daughter, I am 100% supportive of the fact that sexual assault is something that should not occur under any circumstances. The one area that many women seem to conveniently overlook is that biological studies have shown that the most basic way men get “aroused” and become sexually attracted to women is through visual stimulation. While nothing justifies sexual assault, there are many instances where women should be charged with indecent exposure. For example: Wearing a bikini on the beach is a natural situation where women wearing scantily clad bathing suits may be “racy”, but still appropriate. However, a woman wearing that same scantily clad bathing suit in a mall or at a grocery store is inappropriate. One way to dramatically reduce sexual attention in inappropriate environments is for women to dress more conservatively in those environments. I’m not talking about burqas and excessive clothing covering every inch of the body; I’m talking about “dressing appropriately” for the theater you are going to.”

There’s a lot to say in response to those that buy in to these beliefs that both blame what happens to a person based on what they wear as well as exonerate men who are unable to control themselves in various situations for “biological” excuses. First of all, to suggest that “the sins of men are, in part, the fault of women, specifically women in “tight-fitting clothing,” is putting a lot of responsibility at the feet of women. But we know that women that dress conservatively, even in burkas, can be victims of sexual assault. It also suggests that certain types of clothing holds so much power over men that they cannot resist to the point they must respond with violence and aggression – rape is not romance. If tight fitting clothes really caused men to act this way then the surgeon general needs to put warning labels on most (if not all) clothes sold to women these days. Many in the know in this field can tell you that sexual violence has nothing to do with how a woman dresses – as many victims we see are not wearing anything that is particularly “sexy” – and it has everything to do with how a potential perp chooses to behave.

Secondly, as a man, let me just tell you that it is insulting to men to claim that they are helpless to control their own actions. The implication of this thinking is that every male, given any situation where they have the opportunity to take advantage of someone else, could and would commit sexual assault. While it is true that the majority of assaults are committed by males, it is not true that the majority of males are sexually violent. Moreover, to base this on biology as if to suggest by stating something is “biological” is to imply it is instinct or ingrained and, therefore, impossible to alter or change is erroneous in and of itself. We (READ: human beings, both male and female) all have instincts and we are, in fact, instinctual; but instincts are only a part of our decision making process – and, yes!, we do have “knee-jerk” reactions to certain things.  But even those can be altered and controlled.

Bottom Line: Men choose and are solely responsible for how they behave and/or respond to how women freely choose to identify themselves through their fashion – to suggest anything else is ridiculous!

Stop Blaming the Victim

I recently read an article that talked about how victim-blaming attitudes are still so prevalent. The article began by talking about the rape case in Australia where the man was acquitted based on the fact that the girl was wearing skinny jeans. The defense’s argument was that the perpetrator could not have removed the jeans without the girl’s help. That is the argument that got him acquitted.

This is not the first time that a rapist was acquitted based on a court adhering to victim-blaming mentalities like what clothes the woman was wearing or if the woman was drinking alcohol. In April we celebrated Denim Day, which began because an Italian court ruled that a man accused of raping an 18 year old girl couldn’t have done it because her jeans were too tight to take off without consent.  

Unfortunately, the “skinny jean” defense is not the only case of victim-blaming and rape-apology that is happening. In March, a student columnist at American University published a column talking about date-rape. In his article, the student, among other things, makes an argument that since feminists want you to get consent before engaging in sexual activities that they are trying to “abolish its passion.”  What he’s arguing is that the whole idea of sex is all about passion and not stopping to make sure it consensual, because that would ruin the mood. This diatribe leads him into talking about how date-rape is an “incoherent concept”:

Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to a (fraternity) party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next    morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry.

What’s worse than courts acquitting men of rape because of a woman wearing jeans or some people believing that if a woman drinks and follows a man to his bedroom then that should be considered consent? What’s worse is that not just men hold victim blaming views, it’s women too. According to an article published in the NY Daily News, new studies are showing that many women believe that rape victims are partly to blame for the crime. One third of the participants in the study believe that women who dress provocatively or go back to the man’s house for a drink should shoulder some of the blame for the crime. A staggering 71 percent of the women surveyed believed that the victim needs to take partial responsibility for the rape if she went to bed with the man.

All of these attitudes fall under the victim-blaming category. Instead of addressing the actual problem of the perpetrator taking advantage of a woman or ignoring her non-consent or a man who drugs a woman’s drink, some people still look at what a woman is doing and blaming her for ‘getting herself into that situation’. This is unacceptable. A woman or a man for that matter has every right to withdraw consent at any time. Whether the crime occurs before anything happens or after, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, skimpy clothes or not, and if a woman wants to drink she shouldn’t have to be afraid that someone is going to take advantage of her. And yes it’s still rape if you are dating that person or have already had sex with them, anytime you say ‘no’ or are unable to say ‘no’ and someone forces intercourse on you then it is rape.

People need to stop blaming the victim. There is never an instance when someone deserves to be violated because of something they did, something they wore, or because they chose to go to a party and drink.