The problem is the idea that in any situation, a crime might be considered less than a crime because of the appearance or otherwise characteristic of the victim. Still, too often when sexual assault is mentioned it is accompanied by the unwelcome question: ‘what were they wearing?’
So lets start with another scenario; if I walked down the street, completely naked, and someone robbed me, that person still stole from me. They stole from me just the same as if I’d been wearing a parka zipped up to my chin, the latest grey knit scarf on top and a hat for good measure – the rules of right and wrong for the thief don’t change based on my clothes. The idea that I was to blame, or was more vulnerable to being robbed because of what I was wearing does one thing and one thing only; attempt at an excuse for what is inexcusable. Whatever I was wearing, the person who robbed me had their own independent will, and they made the choice to steal. My own outfit is utterly irrelevant.
The same goes for sexual assault. Someone who goes out to a nightclub in a so-called ‘sexualised’ outfit and stiletto heels is not inviting the possibility of sexual assault simply because of what they are wearing. They’re going to a nightclub and exercising their right to wear what they want whilst doing so. Why shouldn’t they? Whether the outfit is ‘sexualised’ or not doesn’t detract from the fact that it is fabric, not a person’s consent, which if freely given, is the only reason you should be touching another person anyway. Clothes, or lack thereof, do not compel someone to make a wrong decision or make someone responsible for someone else’s decision. They’re just clothes. They should never offer anyone some sort of mitigating factor in what they chose to do, in the defence’s eyes, that of a judge, or in that of the wider public.
So much work has been done to dispel preconceptions surrounding sexual assault – that it only happens to women, that it has to involve physical violence, that it only happens late at night or that alcohol is always involved. All of these beliefs are reported as myths by the frontline workers (such as Rape Crisis) who actually counsel survivors of sexual assault and agree that sexual assault is to do with power and control, not any of the beliefs above and certainly not what the person was wearing, be it ‘sexualised’ or not. The reality is that sexual assault can happen to anyone; male or female, from any background, in any context, and it results from one and only one condition – the perpetrator making the decision to commit that crime. The blame of that crime, and the consequences for their choice rests entirely with them.
To say otherwise is to say that, somehow, clothing is more powerful than a simple decision to respect another person’s right to their body. In whatever context, in whatever outfit, it’s not.