Dress Codes Blame The Victim

Dress codes can be a form of victim blaming.

What is the intent of a dress code?

If the intent of a dress code is to “protect” against unwanted advances, we are sending the wrong message. The message we are sending (too often specifically to females) is that you can cause someone to assault you or prevent someone from assaulting you based on how you dress. We are implying that if a person is sexually assaulted and they were not wearing the “prescribed approved attire,” then they are partly responsible for the sexual assault. This is incorrect. The only person responsible for an assault is the assailant.

If the intent is to create a sense of “unity” within the school culture, then the dress code should be universal and not specific to certain genders. In many cases, there is a different dress code for females than for males. Such dress codes are sending a message to females that they don’t have the right to live exactly like many of the people next to them ― purely based on gender ― that they need to live a life with more restrictions. In these cases, one gender is being taught that their body is a distraction.

It’s ironic and hypocritical that in the U.S., where freedom is a right we hold dearly, some people try to control what an entire gender wears...

For a place of education to teach an entire gender that their gender has to act differently and follow different rules and standards is not acceptable. No gender should ever be made to feel that their body is a distraction to the learning of others. The “others” should learn to focus on their own learning and not on another person’s body and/or attire.

Nobody puts on an outfit and says, “I’m going to wear this in hopes that something awful could happen to me today or tonight.” You may disagree with how someone dresses. But what we should all agree on is that, regardless of what someone chooses to wear, that person is still a human being who deserves dignity and respect. Clothing does not change that.

It’s ironic and hypocritical that in the United States of America, where freedom is a right we hold dearly, some people try to control what an entire gender wears, including by trying to apply dress codes that are gender specific.

How can dress codes contribute to a rape culture?

As parents, leaders, and educators—more importantly as humans—we tend to want to protect those we care about. That’s a good thing, except when our messaging can carry meanings that lead to unintended harm. Have you ever heard or said, “Be careful what you wear. You don’t want to send the wrong message”?

As a parent, it might feel good to think I can protect my child by having my child focus on what they do and/or do not wear. The reality is that such comments add to an atmosphere where our child is more likely to blame themselves if they are ever sexually assaulted. The child may believe the assault was their fault because of what they wore—specifically because they wore clothes you told them not to. The reality is only the assailant is responsible for a sexual assault.

Suddenly, a loving parent has added to a culture of victim blaming.

As a parent, empowering and supporting your child’s rights to their boundaries is vital!

Would you rather have a false sense of security or would you rather your child know that NO ONE ever has the right to sexually assault them based on what they wear and that you will always protect their rights to be treated with dignity and respect?

What can you say as a leader, a parent, a coworker, and as a caring person who wants to help counteract victim blaming, especially when a survivor feels they made a bad choice because of standards society has taught?

Take 30 seconds to share this important message with your loved ones: “If you ever make a choice that goes against your core values or the standards that others have taught you, know that no one has the right to sexually assault you because of the choice you made. No one. Ever. The ONLY person at fault for a sexual assault is the assailant. Period.”

Join the millions inspired by Mike Domitrz to have candid conversations about asking first, bystander intervention, and supporting sexual assault survivors at The DATE SAFE Project.

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