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People believe women are more likely to be sexually assaulted if wearing revealing clothes. This is why.

51% of men and 44% of the women in the survey by The Independent believed this to be the case. The survey grouped together harassment and assault, which is unhelpful, but it remains that people think clothes matter in cases of assault, and the facts show that they don’t.

Campaigners, such as Noeline Blackwell head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, cite this belief as ‘one of the most common myths across generations’.

There are tribal cultures that have their tits and their dicks out all day long, they’re not all attacking each other are they. 

But it’s no good just shouting at everyone ‘How dare you think that! Quiet!’; we need to examine why this myth exists so that people can unlearn it.

Firstly, presumably, it is people who have not been abusers, or who have not been abused who have this confusion. We could take comfort in the fact that there are lots of people who don’t understand assault because it’s not something they could ever fathom doing. Because although sexual assault has the word ‘sex’ in it, it is nothing to do with normal biological urges and healthy sexual response; it is about abuse of power, violence and control.

People who don’t understand sexual assault have this idea of a man seeing a woman in something tight and then he becomes so overwhelmed that he has to go and attack her, but this is not a reality, and this idea has been fuelled by a lot of Hollywood glamorisation of sexual attack.

Wearing low cut/short/tight stuff does often lead to more attention, this applies to the men and the women who wear it, but attention or distraction do not lead to violence. To fully understand this we need to break down the different situations in which assault occurs.

Most sexual assault is perpetrated by someone already known to the victim. There is paedophilia, clearly not related to clothes. There is partner violence, or from those that are family or friends or colleagues, again nothing to do with clothes. 

There is assault that began as consensual and then turned into assault or rape. This is a situation in which urges do play a part, but it’s nothing to do with whose clothes were more or less revealing; because it started out as a mutual decision and then turned into something nonconsensual.

Then there is the opportunistic violent attack, eg at night in a secluded area. This is one of the least common situations for sexual attack, but is also where people question the clothing of women. Interviews with rapists confirm that a revealing outfit is not what matters. Attackers look for locations and traits that make attack easy, such as long hair that can be grabbed, or someone whose stance, whether that’s their gait or drunkenness or being hampered by a large backpack, looks like they could be overpowered.

This art exhibition showed what clothes people were wearing when they were sexually assaulted.

As well as a misunderstanding of what drives assault, there is also unfortunately an undercurrent of blaming the one who gets attacked. In regard to blaming women this is partly left over from the Bible story; Eve tempted Adam and it wasn’t his fault right? Which is sexist and patronising bollocks to both men and women; everyone is responsible for their own actions and men are perfectly capable of being autonomous humans. But additionally, as a species it makes us feel safer if we can blame a victim, because then we don’t have to acknowledge that there are just brutal abusive people out there and that bad things happen to good people through no fault of their own. Because that’s a less palatable reality.

However, the reason we also get it twisted is that our culture does operate under some level of denial about clothes. Dressing up in sexualised clothing is done far more by young women than it is by young men (and older), and when genders dress differently in terms of how sexually suggestive their clothes are, there is something skewed going on. We can not pretend that our outfits do not give out a message, and we should not confuse objectification with empowerment. If we can’t have honest conversations about clothing in our general culture, then people get silently confused and make incorrect jumps in logic; about things like sexual assault which are entirely irrelevant to a person’s outfit that day.

don’t beat around the bush


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