Content Warning: rape and sexual assault.
Rape prevention is constantly framed as a woman’s duty. Us, women are always taught to stay in groups when we go out, take self-defense classes, carry pepper spray, and be careful when we are drinking. Everyone knows the “well what were they wearing” cliché, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with consent.
At this point it should be obvious women are not obliged to curtail their behavior to prevent rape or sexual assault. With that being said, it is common to see stories of sexual assault victims where a significant detail is how modest they were dressed. It is important to share these stories, as it frames rape as an act of power, rather than one that is sexualized. Although these stories hold value and can educate people, it has reached the point where it is simply an easy-to-swallow narrative. It is easy to look at a victim of sexual assault who was wearing jeans and a t shirt and believe that it was not his or her fault.
For those who are victims of sexual assault, and do not fit that narrative, it does not mean that it is any more your fault. When I was raped, I did almost everything you are told you should not do. I was wearing a swimsuit and short shorts and I had been drinking. I was wandering around by myself, I thought I was in a safe place. I look back on it and see how naive I was. When I was younger, I saw the good in everybody, so why would anybody do anything so wrong to me?
After I was raped, I felt like an idiot. I questioned everything I had done. It was my fault I had been drinking, it was my fault I put so much trust in people. The actual act of sexual assault turned me into a hollow shell of myself, but the victim blaming mentality only rubbed salt in the wound. Once an innocent idealist, I had become jaded and cynical.
Over time I have come to learn that what happened to me was the fault of no one but my rapist, but that is not something that all victims of assault can say for themselves. The culture of victim blaming adds to the psychological trauma. I had a tendency to rationalize what happened to me, I felt guilt for something that was in no way my fault. Victim blaming only reinforces this.
To victims of sexual assault, remember that you are not to blame, regardless of what you may have done “wrong”. It does not matter what you were wearing, it does not matter how much you had to drink, it is the fault of nobody but the assailant.
cover image via Anton Bielousov