Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the past few weeks then you will have heard about how a girl’s underwear was used as evidence in court, during a rape case. In the trial, the defence lawyer told the jury “you have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The 27-year-old man was found not guilty of rape shortly afterwards.
This case then led to a series of protests about how wearing a certain type of underwear does not equal giving consent.
As a teenager, I was sexually assaulted. If you want all the explicit details about what happened, then you’re in the wrong place, because this is not the place to share them. I find it hard to speak openly about what happened, I have spent years blaming myself and analysing events, trying to work out how it happened and what I could have done differently.
But here’s the thing: I did not consent and just to make it really clear, my underwear did not consent on my behalf. When I was at university, someone said to me that I needed to consider how my behaviour and actions and what I was wearing will have encouraged him. That broke me and it was confirmation of everything that I had tormented myself with. However, I’m now at a point whereby I can recognise that my clothing did not play a part in what happened, I was wearing jeans and a jumper and even if I had been wearing a short skirt or a top showing my cleavage, that would not have been consent either.
Likewise, I know that my behaviour did nothing to encourage him. But again, had I been performing a strip tease and then changed my mind and firmly said “no” my behaviour still wouldn’t be consent.
I was not drunk. I had not been taking drugs. I was stone cold sober, fully aware of my surroundings and I was not wearing a thong. Using the argument that someone is wearing a thong and is therefore consenting completely bypasses the fact that you can’t see a person’s underwear until their clothing has been removed.
Some people would like to think sexual assault is just a result of miscommunication, especially if the victim has some tie to the perpetrator and believe the perpetrator to be incapable of doing such a thing. Let’s put it very simply: unless a person clearly says “yes” to any form of sexual contact then you can’t assume and go ahead with sexual acts.
Likewise, asking a person if they were under the influence of alcohol doesn’t then mean that the assault was justified. By asking if someone was drunk, you’re asking if they were openly making themselves more vulnerable and therefore “asking for it.”
Anyone who has experienced a sexual assault knows how damaging victim blaming can be. Being asked what you were wearing or how you were behaving or even worse, why you didn’t fight back is so harmful. Only last month, women in London were being warned not to wear headphones or use mobile phones because of a number of sexual assaults. Yes, you need to be aware of your personal safety, regardless of gender and sexuality, but the only people who are responsible for sexual assaults are the perpetrators. Headphones don’t rape women, nor do their outfits or undwear or dark streets or clubs or alcohol and drugs or parties.
Don’t get me wrong, the people are carry out sexual assaults are in a minority and it is not a case of all men are bad. Women can also be perpetrators but we don’t see men being warned against wearing headphones. The reason that rape culture remains such as issues in the 21st century is because rape is still prevalent and sexual violence is normalised and excused in the media and popular culture: a women’s underwear being used as evidence in court is a perfect example of this. Women’s rights and safety are being disregarded by the very people who are meant to protect.
Women’s rights are human rights, and the blame has got to be shifted from women who suffer sexualised violence or assaults to men who inflict it upon them. People are told that they wouldn’t have been attacked on the street if they weren’t walking alone, almost as if it was an inevitable event. That isn’t okay.
In the years since I was sexually assaulted, I have swung from blaming myself to being able to acknowledge that it was not my fault and then back again. Sometimes I feel utterly repulsed by myself, other times I feel repulsed by him. I’ve spent years in counselling and therapy, trying to come to terms with what happened. I can talk about the facts, but not the emotional side of events. But the thing is: I did not say yes and fundamentally, that was not respected.