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Something to consider before reading: Not all sexual predators are men and not all victims are women. Victims of sexual assault are survivors who are not to blame for what happened to them. As a woman, I felt it more appropriate to address women’s experiences with victim blaming, and I wrote this with the statistics in mind that it is more common for men to assault women. 

 We’ve been raised in a society that teaches women to protect themselves instead of teaching men to control themselves. It starts early in our lives with the school system. Dress code tells young girls that their shoulders and thighs are to be covered because boys cannot focus. Your neckline can’t plunge, your jeans can’t be too ripped, your shorts too short, your shoulders too exposed, your back can’t be shown, clothes can’t be tight fitting… All these regulations tell girls over and over that their bodies are to blame for the way men perceive them. Women are seen as sexual objects to men, who must cover up so they could learn. 

Our society believes that women’s clothing causes an uncontrollable reaction in men; that catcalling, assault, and rape are all prompted by clothing. If this were true wouldn’t sexual assaults only occur in the summertime, when shorts and tank tops are worn more frequently? Or only to people who wear revealing clothing? When the so-called “temptation” of women’s skin is more prevalent? But it doesn’t. There is no causation between women’s clothing and assault. It needs to be addressed that clothing does not equal consent. Pieces of fabric do not excuse or allow unwanted behavior, and no clothing is “asking for it.”

So why is it that the most common question asked after an assault is “what were you wearing?” Instead of focusing the conversation on predators, the blame is shifted on to the victims. This sort of language is one of many reasons victims of assault do not come forward. Not to mention the assumption that a victim had to dress a certain way to be assaulted is completely incorrect. A museum in Brussels dedicated an exhibit to recreating the outfits that rape survivors had worn on the day they were assaulted to prove the point that clothing did not cause rape. The outfits consist of long sleeved shirts, dresses, jeans, T-shirts, uniforms, and even children’s clothing. Rape happens because of rapists, not any clothing choice a survivor had made. These predators are enabled by victim blaming. This shift of blame and these excuses that our society creates make it easier for rapists to get away with these heinous acts. 

Even if you are “covered up” and are assaulted, there is another sickening question that dares crosses the lips of those looking to blame a survivor: “How much did you have to drink?” Because being inebriated and unable to make decisions means you have chosen to be assaulted. The simple logic here is that a rapist chose to rape. A conscious decision that should call for punishment, yet instead it is followed by excuses. Women are told to cover up. Cover their drinks. Stay sober. Never walk alone. And what are men told? That a woman’s clothing is for their benefit. That they wanted it. That a mistake should not ruin their career. And the irony of all of this is that after years of being told to be careful around men, to cover up around men, to not trust men, not take a drink from a man, when a victim comes forward they are told that the perpetrator would, “Never do that.”

Another argument made when reporting an assault is that there is a lack of evidence which makes it difficult to believe a survivor. I’d like you all to stop and wonder why a robbery, a crime based around a lack of evidence, is treated differently than a rape. Somehow, “I was robbed of a personal object,” is more believable than, “I was robbed of my personal safety and boundaries.” If robberies were investigated the same way assaults are, they would ask if you had been showing off whatever item was stolen. But no one asks to be robbed, right? No one would try to protect an accused thief and their reputation. And no one would think to say you should just enjoy being robbed. 

Social media in the past few years has helped bring attention to victim blaming and promoted awareness about sexual assault. The #MeToo movement on Instagram and other platforms empowered many to come forward to share their stories of sexual assault or harassment. This movement gained traction and caught the attention of many because of the sheer number of people who had a story to share; many had similar experiences after coming forward such as victim blaming. More recently a statistic has been shared on TikTok, following the disappearance of Sarah Everard. In the UK, 97% of women (ages 18-24) have been sexually harassed, according to an investigation done by UN Women UK. People shared videos explaining the different forms of sexual harassment to educate those who did not believe it was possible for the number to be so high. After many realized that sexual harassment is a broad term, there were videos and comments of many realizing they too were part of the 97%. There was a shocking backlash to this movement, comments such as, “Let’s make it 100%.” went viral. Comments like these show how many in our society feel it is acceptable to publicly make jokes about a serious issue that has hurt so many and expect no repercussions. 

There is no good way to end an article about such a serious topic. But just because I am done writing and you are done reading, does not mean that the conversation about sexual assault and victim blaming should end. We need to work to end the frustrating cycle of telling women to protect themselves, and telling victims that it wasn’t enough. 

Grayson Jarrell is a sophomore at Furman University majoring in Studio Art. She spends her free time painting, reading, writing, and riding a skateboard.
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