The ‘But What Were You Wearing?’ Rape Myth

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I’ve covered sexual assault in its various forms for years, and it’s always astonishing to me when myths about this phenomenon come up over and over again. One of the most persistent myths about rape in the public consciousness is “but what was she wearing?”

The question, while posing as an innocent inquiry, is about investigating if perhaps somehow the victim should shoulder part of the blame. Last night, Twitter user @Steenfox, whose real name is Christina Fox, busted this myth in a very real way. After getting into an argument with another Twitter user about this, she threw out this question to her followers:

Before long, Fox was inundated with hundreds of tweets. The Root’s Jenée Desmond-Harris has a sampling of them here, and they are completely worth reading, even if they are difficult to get through. (If you’re brave enough, reading through @Steenfox‘s feed gives you the raw, unfiltered version of it.)

This 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.

The detailed and visceral responses Fox received surprised even her, and her own words explode the “what was she wearing” myth: “I really hope that this opens peoples’ minds that what you are wearing has absolutely nothing to do with whether you are assaulted,” Fox told The Root. “It’s just regular, everyday people that these things have happened to.”

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