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What Were You Wearing? and Other Sexual Assault Myths

Sexual assault victims are often wrongly accused for what happened to them. One of the most common questions victims hear is “what were you wearing?” This question insinuates that what a victim was wearing could have provoked someone to sexually assault them. A Twitter user, Christina Fox (@Steenfox), challenged this myth publically. Today we will take a closer look at what happened as a result of her asking this question.

According to Talking Points Memo (TPM), Fox got into an argument with another Twitter user about the issue of what rape victims were wearing when they were assaulted and she posted the following tweets. “Can I ask a question? If there are any women on my TL who are victims of sexual assault & don’t mind sharing something?” Then she tweeted, “What were you wearing when you’re assaulted? Let me know if it’s ok to RT your response. Thank you in advance for sharing. <3” Fox received hundreds of responses.

The array of responses may have come as a surprise, but the breadth and variety challenge the notion that what women wear can increase their likelihood of being sexually assaulted. One survivor tweeted, “Pink princess pajamas. I was 6,” and another shared, “I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, baggy jeans, and a cap advertising the Beatles.

TPM states that the breadth of responses “serves to simultaneously destroy two myths about rape, first that it is rare and that you probably don’t know anyone who has suffered assault — too many of the tweets related clothing that they were wearing as children and that the perpetrators were relatives or family friends. The second is that what a victim is wearing matters at all.

This is one of the hardest things for many who haven’t been victimized to understand about rape: it isn’t about sex; it’s about power.

In the Cosmopolitan article “17 Beliefs About Sexual Assault That are Totally Wrong”  the myth was addressed as well.  The article states, “One of the oldest rape myths out there is that women invite assault, or make themselves more vulnerable to it, by dressing or acting ‘provocatively’ (provoking, apparently, a male lust so insatiable that men commit violent crimes).” The article further states, “The difference between a night out in a short skirt that ends in rape and one that doesn’t isn’t the clothing or the woman’s behavior — it’s the presence of a rapist. And despite decades of ‘she was asking for it in that skirt’ commentary, no one has ever been able to show a correlation between how a victim dresses and her chances of sexual assault.” Jaclyn Friedman, sexual assault educator and author of What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety stated,

There is evidence that rapists choose victims based on how vulnerable they’re perceived to be. Will they go along? Will they make a fuss? There is literally zero evidence that rapists choose victims based on how sexy or sexual they’re perceived to be. None. Not one study. If that old toxic myth were true, someone would have been able to prove it by now.

While the hope is that we are moving toward a world that understands that victims are not the ones to blame for sexual abuse, there is still a lot of work to do. We need to remember that survivors are just normal people who have been forced to bear a tragic burden. Instead of misplacing blame, we need to provide victims with positive support and make sure that aggressors are held accountable. Fox voiced her hopes for the outcome of the responses she received, saying, “I really hope that this opens peoples’ minds that what you are wearing has absolutely nothing to do with whether you are assaulted. It’s just regular, everyday people that these things have happened to.

What Were You Wearing? and Other Sexual Assault Myths


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