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The persistent myth that revealing clothing leads to rape


A pair of pajamas.

Track pants.

A child’s T-shirt.

The clothes, which were reportedly being worn by rape victims at the moment they were attacked, are part of a chilling exhibition in Brussels intended to dispel the “stubborn myth” that clothing can be used as justification for sexual violence, according to the news website Flanders News.

“When you walk around here, you immediately notice they are very normal-looking pieces of clothes that everybody would wear,” Liesbeth Kennes, with CAW East Brabant, a victim-support group organizing the exhibition, told VRT1 radio in Dutch.

“There is even a child’s T-shirt with a ‘My Little Pony’ in the exhibition. This too is the harsh reality,” Kennes added. “Most rape victims know exactly what they were wearing at that moment.”

A student’s chilling photos put sexual assault in focus

The exhibition, titled “Is it my fault?” addresses the question that some victims of sexual assault — and sometimes society — ask about violent sex crimes.

“The so-called ‘victim blaming’ occurs in both directions,” said Kennes, who told VRT1 radio that she was a victim as a child. “Assailants would, for example, say against their victims, ‘How did you dress at that moment?’ or ‘How did you act up — you were so drunk?’ A victim of sexual violence will often ask themselves if they were part of it; for example, if it was their outfit or the way they behaved at that moment.”

As The Washington Post reported in 2015, a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll on sexual assault on college campuses in the United States showed that nearly 6 out of 10 women said it was commonly believed that women who go to parties wearing provocative clothing are “asking for trouble.” But the majority of men surveyed disagreed.

Kennes told VRT’s De Redactie in 2015 that only about 10 percent of sexual assault cases in Brussels are reported to local authorities. Then only about 10 percent of those cases that are reported result in a conviction, she said.

“Behind those figures are people of flesh and blood, women, men and children,” she said in Dutch, according to BBC News. “Our society discourages victims from speaking about what they have experienced.”

As BBC News reported, Kennes said victims should never be blamed for the sexual crimes against them.

“There is only one person responsible,” she said, “one person who could prevent rape: the perpetrator.”

Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.

Read more:

‘You took away my worth’: A sexual assault victim’s powerful message to her Stanford attacker