Rape & Women’s Dressing

slut walk against rapeA 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.

Self defense against rape

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.

self defense against rapeLet 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.

I’d now, like to know your thoughts on this debate about dress and rape. Which camp do you belong to? Why?


  1. I totally 100% agree with you Sanjeev… P-L-E-A-S-E!!! Just because of the way she’s dressed!!! What is WRONG with these people.

    In my younger days I liked to dress kind of sexy from time to time because it made me feel good about me. Not because I was interested in “doing the dirty deed” with some stranger, but to make me feel good. Now I’m sure some women dress that way for that one reason but it’s consensual.

    No more needs to be said. Lock the guy up and throw away the key is all I have to say.


    • I agree Adrienne. We dress up to feel good about ourselves and not because we want to give out invites. There are other more direct ways to do that.

  2. Wow, I’m shocked at what’s happening in the world right now, I bet one person gets raped every minute or so at this moment as we speak. :S
    Anyways, nice analysis of this issue, I like your post. 🙂

  3. Men has this tendencies to think that women whom are skimpily dressed are cheap, easy and flaunting while these women themself knows that dressing in such fashion is to arouse the attention of men. I beg to differ with those who thinks that women who dresses with super hot pants and skimpy tank tops do so to express their intelligence or high decent values. They do so to tell to all, men and women .. HEY LOOK AT ME I AM SEXY … so , sex appeal gets sexual response hence when it comes to a drunk man or sickos .. they will be more likely to answer to that appeal .. put a bunch of bananas in front of a monkey and you do the maths. Dressing may not be the MAIN reasons for rape.. but it surely is akin to dangling a bunch of bananas to a hungry money .. i repeat.. monkies.. So you do that math.

    • 1. Which men think that women who are skimpily dressed are cheap, easy and flaunting?
      2. No one said a woman dresses the way she does to express her intelligence. But at the same time, a woman does not dress to get raped or because she wants to be raped.
      3. What is wrong if a woman thinks she is sexy and wants to express it. Her expression is no invitation. Nor does it give any man the right to force himself on the woman.
      4. How would explain rapes in ultra conservative societies and countries in the world where women however sexy or intelligent are covered from head to toe.
      5. Dress in not the reason for rape. In fact, countless studies have shown that between a boldly dressed female and a conservatively dressed one, the rapist is more likely to attack the latter!
      6. Finally, I think there must be some difference between men and monkeys. A monkey eats fully dressed banana, and so does the rapist. And a man treats a woman like a lady, no matter how she is dressed.

  4. Hi Sanjeev: Impressive analysis.
    I am tempted to respond to this article due to a very recent experience I had in Bangalore, India.

    While I agree to some people that dressing does matter to an extent, I tend to differ that it is the MAIN reason. I would like to share one of my recent experiences and first of its kind in my so many years of existence 🙂 .

    As a practice, I not only tend to dress neck to toe (literally till toes, as I like wearing shoes to help me walk faster 🙂 ) but also dress what is acceptable in the place. Inspite, once during a traffic commotion, one guy tried to take advantage – I was driving by myself and had rolled down windows. He put his hands inside the car to try to take advantage. This was in the broad daylight and in Indiranagar, Bangalore, one of the safest places in Bangalore!! And with somebody like me, who no way looks like a weak, helpless female.

    What surprised me is when I came out of the car to confront the guy, the locals took his side!! There was only one family who finally came out of their home to advise me to not even deal with such cheap guys.

    But then I decided to file a Police Case, requesting increased patroling in the area. I did file an FIR, but I have doubts about any action. While some of the Police were extremely nice, the Police Inspector’s comment just blew me off. His opinion was that I was upset as this was the first time it was happening to me!!!! My question to him was whether I was expected to get used to it!!

    I believe rapists get their strength from here. Why is it that we do not consider any incident where the final act has not been done, not important enough to be taken seriously. In the incident above, am sure the guy has the tendency to rape however one dresses. Or may be he already has done that to some helpless females by now.

    While I have found Bangalore Police to be generally highly responsible and helpful, I believe it is our community’s attitude to take eve-teasing lightly that finally gives these rapist type cheapos the courage to take the next steps.

    While I have taken the incident in Bangalore, India as an example, I believe this is the same in many places in the world, including some parts of the so called developed countries. I think as humans most people are similar, and the solution has to be way more universal than just punishing the rapist after the fact.

    • Hi Sreevidya,
      Many thanks that you like the article.
      You are right, it is the responsibility of everyone in the society – people, police and us – to ensure that such incidents of assaults on women are eliminated. For this the value systems in the society have to be strengthened and that can only start form our homes. We need to teach our boys that they must treat every female the way they want their sister or mother to be treated. And we should also teach our daughters that they must stand up and not allow anyone to get away with any misdemeanor.

  5. It is simply disgusting to think how a woman dresses would cause her to be raped. That is just a terrible excuse. Rape is more about control and violence than sex. Thank you for the insightful post.

    • You have hit the nail right on the head – rape is about control. Dress is nothing but an excuse. Studies have also shown that most rapists are failures and have very low self esteem.

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