A Toronto city police constable during a campus safety session with students at York University’s Osgoode Hall on January 24 this year suggested that girls can avoid sexual assaults and rape by not dressing like a slut. This remark has resulted in a “Slut Walk” in Toronto on April 3 where women and men have registered their protest against it.
Similar sentiments have been echoed by many others both in the print and the electronic media suggesting as if a woman’s way of dressing could be an invitation to rape. It is shocking to read newspaper reports or see television reports where the defense of a rape accused tries to portray the victim as a loose character who brought rape upon herself by the way she dresses.
Every time I come across such a stereotypical statement or theories, the thought that crosses my mind is that the only wish of man that has not been granted is his Mel Gibsonisque desire to know what women want from men. Then how is that only a rapist is able to understand the “open invitation of rape” by the victim just by seeing the way she has dressed? Are majority of men plain dumb who could not read the invite or is the perpetrator of rape more gifted than even the Gods who it is said cannot fathom what goes on inside a woman’s head?
My submission to the police, defense counsels of the rapists, lose canon politicians, religious bodies, ultra conservative societies such as Saudi Arabia and similar thinking individuals is that rape has nothing to do with the way a woman dresses. If I allow myself to stretch the limits of my imagination then the only link that I can find between rape and the way a woman dresses is that it is a perfect excuse to hide behind.
To say that a woman can prevent being a rape victim by dressing more conservatively is to suggest a direct cause – effect relationship between dressing and rape. This is incorrect. One, it would seem to condone the rapist and put the entire blame of the rape on the woman – the way it has happened in majority of cases in Saudi Arabia where the victims have been punished by lashes and other similar ways for being the unfortunate victims of rape!
And that brings me to the other question that I do not seem to be able to answer – will there be no rape if women were to be covered from head to toe? The fact that rape happens in some of the most conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia and elsewhere proves that there is no relationship between rape and the way a woman dresses. Even in India, the two states that have the highest incidence of rapes are Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal – definitely quite high on the conservative dressing sweepstakes.
Dress conservatively to avoid rape? Then how does one explain the following?
- According to Wikipedia, a woman is South Africa is more likely to be raped than being able to learn to read! If that be true then how would conservative dressing reduce the chance of a woman being raped in that country?
- Some time back I read that in a village in Punjab a 78 year old woman was raped. And this is not an isolated case. If I google “78 year old woman raped” I get a shocking 2.26 million results! That may not be the number of cases, but there must be a large number of such shameful incidents to have generated 2.26 million pages on the internet. The question is – How sluttishly could a 78 year old woman dress to invite rape?
- Similarly we also read every day the world over about young girls – sometimes as small as 4 or 5 or 6 years of age – being raped. Google returns 5.68 million pages to the search query “6 year old girl raped”. Again the question that begs to be answered is how can a girl of 6 years dress to avoid being assaulted so brutally?
- In majority of cases (as high as 70% or more), the crime is committed by a relative, friend or acquaintance. In such cases how does the way a woman dresses get into the consideration set? I’d say that in such a scenario, putting the blame on the dress is worse than rubbing salt on wounds.
In defense of the tribe of the Toronto police officers who advise women to dress conservatively to avoid assault, one may argue that the reasoning behind such an advice is the old wisdom that prevention is better than cure. However, on a deeper analysis, even this argument does not hold water. In my opinion this is similar to the suggestion that marriage is an open invitation to divorce.
Let me further explain my reasoning for dismissing the suggestion that conservatively dressing by women will avoid rape. The rapist is a hunter and is on the look out for his prey – the victim. Thus the relationship between a rapist and the victim is similar to the hunter and its prey. Conservatively dressing by a woman may reduce the probability of that woman being the victim, but it is certain that some woman will be a victim. A gazelle may be advised that in order to not become food for a lion, she needs to run faster; thus by running faster it may avoid getting killed, but it is certain that some gazelle will be killed by the lion. The rapist is no lion, but the situation is similar.
Majority of hunting projects are planned. And so is rape. Most rapes do not happen on impulse. And that is why one cannot blame it on the dress.
I therefore firmly believe that putting the blame on the way a woman dresses for the crimes committed on them is downright insensitive, foolish and is equivalent to passing the buck.