Question: When is a skirt more than a skirt?
Answer: If it’s short enough - or sheer enough - or shiny enough – a skirt can also be a signal and incitement to rape, according to a significant minority of people in this country. In the context of sexual violence, aspects of women’s appearance are frequently cited as indications that they were “asking for it”. This sounds ridiculous – because it is.
Equally ludicrous is the suggestion which underpins this myth – that women desire and incite sexual violence. No woman asks to be raped – ever. It’s a simple as that. Women should not be held responsible for the behaviour of rapists or expected to base their decisions on dress around the possibility that these might lead to an attack.
Prevalence of victim blaming
A culture of woman-blaming persists, as many independent sources show.
The changes that need to take place are not in our fitting rooms but in the mindsets of those who continue to hold prejudicial attitudes and cling to the notion that women should abide by some “appropriate” code of behaviour – or be held responsible for “the consequences”. How many times have you heard references to women “putting themselves at risk”, “sending the wrong message”, or “asking for it”?
Research published in 2010* revealed widespread attitudes that blame women for rape and found that more than half of the sample of more than 1000 people interviewed hold victims responsible in some circumstances. 28% of these people included provocative dress as one of the circumstances which justified holding the victim to some extent responsible.
Figures published by the Scottish Government in 2010 showed that 17% of respondents thought that a woman was partly, mostly or totally responsible for being raped 'if she is dressed in revealing clothing’ while just under a quarter (23%) of respondents thought that a woman was partly, mostly or totally responsible for being raped 'if she is drunk'. While these figures reflect a slight decrease on previous years, there is clearly still considerable room for improvement.
Research conducted by Rape Crisis Scotland in advance of ‘This is not an invitation to rape me’, a national campaign to challenge woman-blaming attitudes, found that 20% of people believed that women contribute to rape by wearing revealing clothing, and an enormous 40% subscribed to the view that women could be considered culpable to some degree of they “put themselves in risky situations”.
These findings support and reinforce earlier studies such as the 2005 Amnesty research which had already laid bare the extent to which women are blamed for sexual violence.
The prevalence of these ideas and the prejudicial attitudes they underpin seriously damage the chances of women who have been raped of receiving justice. With the conviction rate in Scotland in 2010 having fallen to 3% - its lowest ever, the need to change attitudes which blame women is more urgent than ever.
We need to stop victim-blaming and assign responsibility to those whose decisions do lead to rape – perpetrators and the apologists whose woman-blaming views have assigned rape its current status as a low-risk crime. For as long the notion that women can “ask for it” or invite attack through their dress or behaviour are allowed to persist, rapists will continue to act with impunity, confident in the knowledge that their actions will receive far less scrutiny than those of the women they assault.