Trigger Warning: The following contains descriptions of sexual assault and rape.
October 2020: Less than a year ago, a court in Peru acquitted an accused rapist because the victim’s red, lacy underwear apparently signalled the victim’s intent to have sex. The Judge’s statement read that “This type of women’s underwear is normally used on special occasions leading to moments of intimacy, which gives the impression that the woman [is] prepared or willing to have sexual relations with the accused.” The victim was also accused of misrepresenting herself when she described herself as “shy.” Shocked? Disgusted? I was too when I came across the case.
November 2018: A court in Cork, Ireland found an accused rapist not guilty on the grounds that the complainant was wearing a thong with a lacy front, thereby suggesting she was open to meeting and having intimacy with the defendant. There seems to be a pattern here.
2015: Rape survivor and founder of the band ‘The Pretenders’, Chrissie Hynde published a memoir. While promoting it in an interview she said, “you know, if you don’t want to entice a rapist, don’t wear high heels so you can’t run from him. If you’re wearing something that says, ‘Come and f*ck me,’ you’d better be good on your feet.” It seems even women have internalised the idea that they can be responsible for their own experiences of assault.
These case studies are extremely difficult to read, especially when there are countless others where everything from skinny jeans to “too much makeup” have taken the blame for something that a rapist should have been punished for. What is particularly upsetting about these cases, however, are the women who too perpetuate victim-blaming.
In the Peru case, two female judges were on the bench. Female. In the Cork case, the closing statement, asking the court to consider “the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.” was declared by a female lawyer. Female. In the Chrissie Hynde case, a woman who had experienced her own sexual assault, still stood by the fact that a victim’s clothes are the reason their rape happens. Again, female.
As much as we hate to admit it, victim-blaming is not as black and white as men accusing women of producing their own traumas. How much easier would it have been to read that it was an all-male bench or a male lawyer or a male singer’s comments. But we have to face the reality that women too can amplify gender prejudice. It just goes to show how deep internalised misogyny really is.
The fact is, females had power in these situations and tragically used it to acquit rapists and blame victims. While considerable backlash and protest broke out as a result of the case verdicts, led mostly by women, it hurts to think that part of the reason the protests even exist was, in some way, due to the decisions and words of women themselves.
These cases, and all cases of rape acquittals or deniers, challenge us to look inward. As a community, we must help other women evaluate their own assumptions about women, and deconstruct the misogynistic idea that women in ‘skimpy’ clothes, drunk girls, brash, flirty girls, are asking for it. This is not just a male issue.
These cases where the verdict rests on a piece of lace can be the last of their kind, where consent is not judged on what wardrobe choice a woman has made that day, but where a victim’s word is taken as fact and the appropriate punishment is given. But we aren’t there yet. It’s scary realising that you might be unconsciously biased, but it’s even scarier to stand up to look your rapist in the eye and condemn them.
I’m sorry to the women who just wanted a nice night out and ended up with public humiliation and a literal airing of their dirty laundry. It’s time for us all to consider our biases. Instead of condemning women for their choices on a night out, condemn the culture that uses these choices against innocent victims and let rapists walk free.