Too often when women are sexually assaulted, the onslaught of questions begins, starting with the most insidious one: what were you wearing?
That question is accusatory and insulting, insinuating that although rape is wrong, somehow the victim brought it on by showing a little too much thigh, a flash of her breasts, or some other part of her body that provoked her attacker to strike.
And no matter how many times women are attacked wearing jeans, or long dresses, or burqas they are still often made to feel like their outfit choices attracted their rapist, because, apparently men cannot ever be trusted to act responsibly (as I wrote about this week).
Recently, a conversation on Twitter about how women “shouldn’t dress” if they plan on not getting assaulted evolved into a powerful demonstration that allowed sexual assault victims to speak for themselves and demolish the notion that what a woman (or girl or a boy) wears has anything to do with being raped.
The emotional conversation began when Twitter user @SteenFox asked victims: “What were you wearing when you’re [sic] assaulted?” Fox also asked respondents if she had permission to share their tweets, but the outpouring was overwhelming.
Here’s just a sampling:
[Note: We are publishing the tweets without the survivors’ names attached to protect their privacy. We encourage you to read them on @SteenFox’s timeline]
@steenfox jeans, t-shirt. I was 15, it was my first “real” boyfriend. Tried to make myself think that it was ok for years.
@steenfox 19 yrs old, a blouse and fitted jeans. Told me it was the only way he would take me back home.
@steenfox pink princess pajamas. I was 6.
@steenfox House clothes – prob. jeans/t-shirt. I was 7. My mom’s friend babysat me. It was her nephew and he was close to 20 years old.
@steenfox White jeans, yellow shirt. Roller skates for the 1st part of the night – I was 15 & it was my first date.
@steenfox 1st time, nightgown. I was 5. 2nd&3rd time, jeans and a tee or tank top. 4th time, nothing. It was by my (then) gf, we were in bed
@steenfox I was wearing a baggy tshirt & long skirt, no makeup
@steenfox office work clothes. collard shirt, cardigan, pencil skirt with tights, flats.
For many, the conversation was cathartic, allowing them to speak for themselves and share their stories with so many others who could relate. For others, the tweets opened up space for much-needed conversations about sexual assault with their loved ones.
After reading the stories, one man said his wife opened up about an assault that occurred while she was in college, and another user said the Twitter exchange was “healing” and inspired her “to have a much-needed conversation w/my partner.”
The tweets streamed into Fox’s timeline for hours from all over the world. She explained the significance of this fact in an interview with The Root.
“This is not a ‘Black Twitter’ thing at all. This is a global issue. But people need to understand that we do start powerful discussions, and this is an example of that.”
In the end, Fox thanked those who had the courage to entrust her with their stories, which drove home the point “that it doesn’t matter what you wear, clothing choices don’t protect you from assault.”