TURES COLUMN: Myths About Women Who Are Assaulted: It Wasn’t The Clothes They Wore

Published 9:30 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

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A few years ago, I found myself at a campaign event, where discussion quickly turned to the top story of the day: a political figure accused of sexual assault.  I can’t repeat what was said by the men and women there, but I can say that I heard a lot of myths about the subject.  What was she wearing?  Did she lead him on?  Was it even his fault?  Could he have helped himself?

It’s a pretty uncomfortable discussion topic.  But last week, one of my political science majors teamed up with a friend of ours who is also the Director of Harmony House to put on a display of what women were wearing when they were raped by men, women, even siblings, and cousins.  Just as haunting were the words written by the survivors of such assaults, the women whose attacker didn’t finish them off in order to conceal the crime.

The first thing you’ll notice is how mundane the clothing is.  There’s little there that anyone would claim is a suggestive outfit.  If you expected items from Victoria Secret or from Europe or something that resembles what a show performer from Las Vegas would wear, you’d be wrong.  Only one was a dress, but even that was something that could be worn to a church function.  And that victim, who saved up to buy that outfit to wear to a party, now hated it.

There’s an Auburn sweatshirt, a Pokemon t-shirt, a Captain America t-shirt, a local high school t-shirt.  One shirt said “Dream On.”  Another clothing item said “Love is all you need” with a heart.  One couldn’t remember what she wore the first time she was attacked, but supplied the clothing from the second time someone went after her.

That was the second thing you noticed about the exhibit, when you read the stories.  Not only did many of the women feel shame but they also began to hate those clothes, and the activities associated with them.  One quit cheerleading, and didn’t say why.  Few felt they could speak to anyone about that traumatic experience.  It’s not all “50 Shades of Grey” and billionaire bondage games, though I have heard some guys tell me that’s what women want.  That’s fiction, folks.

The third thing you realize is that the women who were attacked thought they were safe.  It was only such a short outdoor path.  It was a friend, or even a family member; some stories had male perpetrators and others had female attackers.  It’s no wonder such stories aren’t told, and attackers aren’t always prosecuted.  When deep trust is violated in such a way, how are the victims going to trust well-meaning law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges?

You also learn that though most attacks are portrayed in the media as occurring in college towns at college campuses, many of these sad cases were in homes, high schools, far away from higher education.  Most of their attackers weren’t strangers, but someone they knew.

“In a world of entitlement, everybody gets what they want…rules don’t apply to me—this happens more and more often,” a woman wrote of my student’s presentation.  “Her event was to bring awareness to college kids, ways to reach out for help and know they are not alone….NO means NO – it doesn’t only happen in college towns, or college age.”

This student who led the presentation is a Servant Scholar who worked with Harmony House.  Our former mayor, now a political science professor, got our Servant Scholars to work with the community to help.  This student, her family and the Harmony House Director are politically conservative, I believe.  But this is an issue that should transcend political ideology.