I work daily with a group of men and women at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands who want a community where healthy survivors thrive in a community free of sexual assault. While clothing may be provocative, it should be regarded on its fashion merits alone.
Bob Sargent’s letter (“Watch those plunging necklines, ladies. They’re asking for trouble,” Jan. 9) was classic victim blaming: holding survivors responsible for their victimization.
Plunging necklines didn’t invite rape; perpetrators’ disregard of another person’s boundaries, their desire for power and control over another and an expectation that society won’t hold them responsible for their actions cause the sexual violence. When assault occurs, it is solely the responsibility of the perpetrator.
We often advise vulnerable people (mainly women) to watch their drinks, wear modest clothing and stay in groups to avoid victimization. This is what we call risk reduction. It doesn’t prevent assailants from perpetrating crimes and is not considered effective in reducing the incidence of sexual violence, although it may reduce an individual’s risk of being assaulted.
If Mr. Sargent is disgusted by sexual violence, we hope he will join us in our work to eradicate this evil crime. We have many opportunities to get involved. You can volunteer as an advocate supporting survivors on the hotline or providing accompaniment at the hospital, donate to support trauma-informed care for survivors or ensure that people receive violence-prevention education in schools, churches or other community settings.
Violence-prevention education is critical to reducing sexual violence. It teaches us to respect each other and appropriate boundaries and to engage in conflict resolution. It starts as young as age 3 and continues through adulthood. Such skill-building prevents us from seeing a plunging neckline as an invitation for violence or thinking that it’s acceptable to degrade a coworker to gain power and control.
We all must take responsibility for our part in rampant sexual violence. “Provocative” clothing does not contribute to sexual violence; a fundamental disregard for the person wearing it does. Our only hope for ending sexual violence in our community is to stand together in holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior and making it clear that violence is never acceptable. This “boys will be boys” attitude doesn’t serve anyone.
Mary Dell Hayes
Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands