Monday, October 21, 2013

"If She Hadn't Worn That": Saying NO to Blaming Women for Rape

Slutwalk protests started in Toronto in 2011 in response to a Canadian police officer saying that women could avoid rape if they didn’t dress like sluts. Chicago (most recently September 2013) and other major cities have also held rallies and marches since 2011 protesting the idea that women are responsible for sexual assault because of how they dress or behave. 

Like Slutwalk, IMPACT Chicago is working to create a world where women are not told they are responsible for violence they experience because of how they dress or behave. In addition to believing women should dress as they want, we also want to shout from the rooftops that women learning and using physical and verbal self-defense skills is a powerful approach to creating social change and increasing safety for all women.

IMPACT International Directors recently reflected on the mission of Slutwalk and how it connects to our work. One theme Directors addressed was the lack of relationship between ways women dress and sexual assault. In this blog, Lisa Scheff, IMPACT Bay Area; Jill Shames, IMPACT Israel; Richard Chipping, London Centre for Personal Safety; and Heidi Hornbacher, IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California offer their views on the lack of relationship of dress to sexual assault.

Lisa Scheff of IMPACT Bay Area says: “Slutwalk was born out of an egregious statement of victim blaming, ‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.’ One of the (many) problems with that statement is that how a woman dresses does not cause or prevent rape. Period. It is important for people to avoid confusing teaching women how to avoid rape and teaching people not to rape. There has been a tendency for people to start from the premise that you shouldn't teach women to dress differently and then generalize it to ‘you shouldn't teach women to change their behavior to prevent rape’ which gets interpreted as you shouldn't teach women to defend themselves."

Jill Shames of IMPACT Israel notes that “researchers have found no significant correlation between how women dress and their likelihood to be assaulted. The factors that actually contribute to vulnerability have much more to do with how a woman moves (i.e. lack of confidence, attentiveness, physical coordination and purpose) and not with what she chooses to wear. In Saudi Arabia, women are covered from head to toe and have severe sexual assault problems.”

Richard Chipping of London Centre for Personal Safety adds: “We need to focus on the perpetrators’ calculations.…babies in nappies and nuns in habits have suffered sexual violence. This violence hasn't happened because of their behaviour or dress-sense. There was a 90's study in the City of London that mapped hemlines onto the economic cycle, but found to researchers surprise that there was a slight increase in sexual violence during recessions when hemlines were descending.”

Heidi Hornbacher of IMPACT Personal Safety-Southern California notes: “We want to be absolutely clear that nothing in a woman's behavior or dress promotes or incites rape; the cause of rape is rapists, however, all of us can develop better skills for recognizing people (strangers or familiars) who are likely to rape and getting out of dangerous situations. We are not at fault, but we can develop skills that make us ‘hard targets.’ ”

Over the next three months, IMPACT Chicago will run additional blogs highlighting key points made by IMPACT International Directors: self-defense is about safety for all (November), self-defense can stop violence for ourselves and others (December), and addressing our own language (January 2014).

IMPACT Chicago promoted Slutwalk 2013 on our Facebook page  with the following post: “Slutwalk 2013 Chicago-because we need to change victim-blaming culture by working at multiple levels, from women knowing how to prevent, stop, report, intervene, and prosecute rapists to creating communities committed to stopping rape and rapists so that all women and girls are safe.”

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