In the wake of the devastating sexual assault allegations against former famed director and Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, outlining more than three decades of relentless sexual assault, harassment, and an egregious abuse of power, actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik wrote an op-ed for the New York Times describing what she believes to be feminism in the year 2017. The problem? According to Bialik, she avoided victimization by rich, powerful men in Hollywood because she wasn't a "perfect 10." She dresses modestly, refuses to flirt, and doesn't meet conventional beauty standards, so she doesn't have much to worry about on the sexual assault and harassment front. But the following women prove "dressing modestly" doesn't prevent sexual assault, and conservative attire will not save any woman from predators.
One would think, in an age when one in six women will be sexually assaulted and an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, the victim blaming and "what were you wearing?" interrogations would end. But Bialik's op-ed — and designer Donna Karan publicly wondering, out loud, if Weinstein's victims were "dressing for trouble" — is proof positive that even self-proclaimed feminists need one powerful reminder: no matter what they're wearing, how much they had to drink, or any other life choice they may or may not have made, sexual assault victims are not the problem. Assailants are.
I was wearing pajama pants and a sweatshirt when I was sexually assaulted by a coworker during a work retreat. Those same pants, the underwear I was wearing that night, and that very stained, beloved sweatshirt are now gone — forever. After I endured a rape kit they were all collected as evidence, housed in a plastic bag with a tag and placed next to all the other pants and shirts and coats and boots and shorts and skirts and whatever other items of clothing women like me were wearing when they were violated. In the year it took my rape kit to be analyzed, I wondered what the bags beside my own looked like. How many women were wearing pajama pants, like me? How many women are wondering if they'll ever see those same pants again? And how many work uniforms are waiting to be examined by forensic scientists? How many team jerseys? Sweaters? Coats? How many times did the women who used to wear those clothes have to defend their wardrobe after they bravely shared their stories of assault and harassment, because far too many people still believe the archaic notion that a woman's clothing is to blame for the actions of someone else?
Sadly, I only had to go so far as Google to answer most of those questions. In a detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits in 2015, USA Today found "70,000 neglected kits in an open-records campaign covering 1,000-plus police agencies." Since there are 18,000 police departments in the U.S., there could be over a million untested rape kits. If we laid out all of those clothes, would we have a better idea of what outfit says "asking for it"?
To underscore that point, in 2016 Katherine Cambareri photographed the clothes sexual assault survivors were wearing when they were assaulted for her thesis project at Arcadia University. Among the photographs? White tennis shoes. A red, heavy sweater. Distressed jeans. A floral camisole. They were all clothes that a typical student would wear on a college campus — the same college campus where an estimated 11.2 percent of students will be victims of an attempted or completed rape. And still, victim-blaming remains. In Britain, Newsweek found that over a third of the men believe women and what they were wearing are to blame for their own rapes. In 1999 an Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction "because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent." Nothing will change until we, as a culture, disregard the notion that women, their wardrobes, and their behavior must be altered in order for sexual assault and harassment to end. It is perpetrators — the majority of which are men — who need to be educated and reformed. And it's also people like Bialik and Karan — women who have indeed demonstrated a years-long commitment to women's best interests — who need to be shown, once and for all, that the assailants, not the victims and their clothes, are to blame.
"I was roofied at a brunch on a Sunday afternoon on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C.. I was wearing jeans and a tank top. Nothing special. Called police. Did the rape kit. Waited for a year for them to investigate to only tell me that there was not enough evidence, even though they found his DNA on me. Guy got away with it."
"I was molested when I was 10. I was wearing a white t-shirt, black shorts, and a blue striped bathing suit underneath. I was in my parents computer room playing an online chess game. My dad's friend came in and said he would play and then proceeded to put his hands down my shirt and in my pants I was completely frozen. He tried to kiss my neck and I jumped up he started to get up and I picked the keyboard up to defend myself and hit him in the face as he went to stand and I ran out to my mom. She told my dad the next morning."
"I was wearing jeans, a long flannel shirt, a coat, and boots. Basically asking for it."
"When I was raped, I was wearing grey tights, a knee length black dress that covered my collarbone, knee-high black boots, and a long sleeve grey cardigan. It was an outfit I was frequently wore when I went to mass, and the only skin you saw were my hands, my neck, and my face."
"I was travelling with a friend to Egypt and Morocco several years ago. When I travel abroad, I always make sure to be respectful by conforming to the local standards of appropriate attire, so I was wearing a long sleeve shirt with a higher neckline, and dark colored linen pants that were very baggy and opaque.
There were several sexually aggressive situations while I was in Morocco. Crowds of men had a way of gravitating toward us while we passed, and we had to smack away wandering hands that would try to feel us up as they went by. There was also a gang of young pre-teen boys who would hang out outside our hostel and try to mob and grope us every time we walked past — we had to secure an escort to get past safely on several occasions. The worst occasion was while we were touring Fez, Morocco, a man came up from behind me while I was walking through a darker, more secluded part of the souq, and groped me as he passed, grabbing my butt and crotch and squeezing — essentially 'grabbing me by the pussy' as our president so succinctly put it. He then sprinted away down the alley while I stopped for a moment, stunned, and by the time I tried to chase after him to scream at him he was already gone. I then burst into tears and cried for about an hour. After the moment had passed, it didn't really occur to me to describe it as sexual assault until several years later, when I heard our president casually brag about it, and then the reality of the thing hit me much more forcefully."
"I was wearing a crewneck sweater and jeans. No makeup. I was a pretty low-key dresser when I was younger, one of the modest 'good girl' honors students in my high school. None of that protected me."
"I was raped at a frat party. I was wearing an IU jersey and spandex shorts. It was a jersey party. My favorite underwear, which I was also wearing that night, are still in evidence, along with my untested rape kit."
"My wedding ring.
My ex-husband sexually assaulted me throughout our entire marriage. But at the time, I didn't think it was assault — we were married. I 'owed' him sex. And every time he cheated on me (which was at least once a year and those are just the ones I actually found out about), I was to blame — I didn't flirt with him enough, I didn't send him enough naked pictures of myself, I didn't agree to his requests for a threesome, I didn't want to have anal sex, I didn't initiate sex with him.
Every time he wanted to have sex, I didn't want to. I would say 75 percent of the time, I told him no. He would pester me and beg until it was after midnight and I just gave in to shut him up. I'm realizing now that was sexual assault, but of course he would never think he was assaulting me — I was his wife, right? And I had agreed to have sex with him for the rest of my life.
It didn't matter how much I told him I didn't want to or how much I cried during sex, especially if it was something that physically hurt — he didn't care. I was wearing a wedding ring, therefore I was his to own."
"I was assaulted by a youth Pastor that was apart of a traveling Chitling Circuit that we were both a part of. So... I don't actually remember what I had on the day of the assault, as we were traveling late at night via a small bus from Georgia to Texas for a show when the actually assault took place. I was 16 at the time. We as an organization were a ministry. So we sang, did interpretive lyrical dance, etc. in which I did as well. So as a dancer, we were covered in a long sleeve white leotard and a long white flowing big skirt.
I do remember very vividly moments that lead up to it happening. Now I see there were warning signs. One in particular stands out. We were rehearsing and the entire team and cast were together. I was rushing so I threw on some bluish-green-with-white-dots bathing suit bottom shorts under the skirt just to practice. I had the leotard over top of those. During the dance, the guy had a crazy look on his face, like he was upset or angry and he kept looking at me. Made me very uncomfortable to the point where I thought I did something to him. So at the end of practice, the leader over the dancer came to me and said, '[Redacted] said that you can see your shorts under your outfit and it's a distraction. So you need to find something else to wear when you dance.' I was so confused and pissed because, again, the way she said it was like I was in trouble."
"I was 22 years old and he was my boss.
I’d just left an emotionally and financially abusive relationship and I was living in a new city, hours away from my family and friends. I was poor, I was vulnerable, and I was alone.
He said, 'I only hired you because I wanted to fuck you.'
I’d only worked there three weeks before he cornered me in a closet for the first time. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was shaking and he was telling me that I wanted it. That he wouldn’t have done it unless I wanted it, and don’t worry, because he knew what I wanted and I didn’t.
After that, it was every day. We shared a secluded office space, my office just outside his, and he would tell me to lock the door and come into his office. Then he started coming to my apartment. Every day he would tell me he was doing what was best for me and I needed to trust him because he knew better than I did.
He said, 'You wanted it or I wouldn’t have done it.'
I didn’t tell anyone — I didn’t have anyone to tell. Every day he told me over and over again that I wanted it, that he was taking care of me, that he loved me, and every day he hurt me. I told him I wanted to stop and he didn’t stop. He liked that I didn’t wear makeup because no one would see how much I cried.
He said, 'Don’t worry, I won’t tell your boss, haha.'
After six months I left, but he didn’t leave me alone. Over the next six years I moved away, I changed jobs, I got married, I had a son. Every six months he would show up. Sometimes I could avoid him, and sometimes I couldn’t. Once he grabbed my arm in the stairwell and told me to drive to his hotel or he would tell my husband everything.
I cried in the car as I drove. Big, hot tears that fell into my lap and clouded my eyes. He told me that I wanted it, because why else would I have driven there? He told me I wanted it. I wanted it. I wanted it.
I didn’t want it.
Three months ago my husband found out. He dragged the story out of me, piece by piece, and he finally asked me if my abuser raped me. For the first time, it had been given a name.
Yes. I said, he did.
"I was wearing his pajamas: a Joker t-shirt and a pair of green and brown plaid flannel pants. These were what I typically wore whenever I'd sleep over. [Redacted] and I had dated for nine months, but six months after breaking up, I was still sleeping over because I was too broke to afford to buy a bed. I had already had a shit day, finding out that morning that my doctor thought there was a good chance I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but not having ever wanting kids, I thought I was silly to grieve over something I didn't want anyway, so instead of saying anything, I just tried to take my mind off of it.
I never felt weird about getting too drunk around him, and that night I got way too drunk; probably alcohol poisoning kind of drunk. I did confide in him what the doc said, while I drank a second bottle of wine. I remember going to bed and at one point I got up to pee and fell to the floor, still too drunk to walk. I crawled back into bed and that's when he started groping me. I'll leave out what happened next except for one thing... or is it eight? That's how many times I said "no, or "stop," or used our safe word from when we had dated before I lost count. I suffered a hernia that night which required a mesh implant solidifying no hope of ever giving birth to a child because the mesh will tear open my insides if my womb grows. My surgeon has explained that I will always feel a little pain because of it. A permanent reminder of that night.
Most of my friends didn't believe me or asked why I was sleeping over there. My mom and my sister were less than helpful, and his brother, who claimed to be my friend, told me I was wrong. His mother told me what a good man he was. I wanted to kill myself.
It was his ex-girlfriend, who I never got along with, who actually believed me. She made a comment in passing about how everyone knows [redacted] doesn't like to hear the word "no" and I responded with, "especially when he's drunk." She just pursed her lips together and nodded.
This happened five years ago this coming Feb, but it took me a month to fully cut him out of my life. Sociopaths are amazing at making someone believe as if they're all alone. especially if they used to be your boss. He's married now and I doubt [his wife] knows.
I never reported it, but I wish I had."
"I had worked at a medical clinic for three years, but left this past February. Main reason was the clinical director of the office wouldn't stop massaging my shoulders, seeking me out to 'talk' in private, saying I always look miserable when he's around and just overall creepiness. I told my practice manager to file a report and was told to wait and she would talk to him and then I could decide. I told her I had decided and to file it. I talked to all other females at the office and they said they knew he was touchy feely but that's how he is. I even asked him to leave me alone. When that didn't work I physically hid in the bathroom every time he came around my desk and would time when his appointments with patients were done to avoid him. Talked to my husband and my mom, dad, and sisters, and cried, and all [of them] urged me to file the report. I kept requesting and it never happened from my female practice manager whom I was close with at the time. I decided to quit instead.
I was wearing professional attire. And for me that means black or dark, non-revealing looser shirts and cardigans and flats."
If you're a victim of sexual assault and need help, contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. You are not alone.