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“Rape and Miniskirts: Déjà vu All Over Again”

Sep 05, 2008 — Categories:

Let’s begin with the bottom line: lack of modesty in dress doesn’t cause rape. But this doesn’t stop Father Sergio Roman from condemning miniskirts.

Let’s begin with the bottom line: lack of modesty in dress doesn’t cause rape. But this doesn’t stop Father Sergio Roman from condemning miniskirts.

Father Roman on an official church website in Mexico City is preaching modesty for women only:

If you want to avoid sexual aggression ... do not use provocative clothing ... watch your glances ... don't be alone with a man, even if you know him ... don't permit spicy chats or jokes ... look for help when you suspect bad intentions.

It sounds like he is saying, “the way you act and dress causes men to rape you.” This is classic victim blaming. I thought we had put this notion to rest. But it was echoed recently as well by a Jamaican police superintendent urging modesty in dress to curb rapes on the island. And I am sure similar suggestions are still prevalent in the U.S.

But if scantily clad women are the source of sexual assault, then what is the explanation for the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl by a gang of five men, of an 80-year-old woman in her own home, of altar boys of any age?

Sex offenders target people whom they perceive as vulnerable and “easy victims.” Sometimes this means an immodest woman but most of the time it is some other vulnerability that a sex offender exploits. This comment was included in the LA Times blog responding to this news story:

I work on a college campus surrounded by attractive young women in skimpy clothes and I never have been tempted to rape anyone. In fact, the idea is repulsive to me (by the way, I am straight), as it is to most men.

There may be good reasons to urge a return to some degree of modesty in dress for women and men. But stopping rape isn’t one of them.

The problem with the pronouncement from Mexico City’s Cathedral is that it perhaps inadvertently and unintentionally holds women responsible for acts of violence against them. A deeper study of rape victims in the Bible such as Bathsheba, Dinah, Tamar, Suzannah, and the unnamed concubine suggests otherwise. Until we get this right, we won't be effective in curbing sexual violence.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

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