By Louise, 3rd year Fashion Design NTU student
Content Warning: This blog post discusses sexual violence, rape and victim blaming which can be harmful and upsetting to anyone who has experienced this.
Hi, my names Louise. I am a final year Fashion Design student and I have been a consent is everything facilitator for one year now. I will be talking about victim blaming through clothing in this blog post. Initially I decided to become a NTSU consent program volunteer amid the rise in spiking reports after covid, I signed up at girls’ night in to help deal with my anxiety of feeling powerless on nights out. I have experienced unwanted harassment, touching, cat calling and cyber flashing myself, in clubs, on my social media and just on the street. I have close friends who have been sexually assaulted or raped by friends, colleagues, and other close people in our lives. It makes us feel powerless, therefore, using my voice to take a stand gives me confidence to fight back against my fears and worries. Everything I have learnt on the program has allowed me to learn how to support victims including my friends, other people on nights out, and myself and has allowed me to educate others in my life too. I then decided to apply all these feelings and the knowledge I have learnt to my discipline of fashion design, writing my dissertation about sexual politics in women’s fashion. I Investigated how and why we use clothing to blame victims, the history behind clothing stereotyping, and what we can do to prevent harmful stereotypes.
So, what is victim blaming?
Victim blaming happens across the globe every day. Victim blaming is a way to excuse an assault or find a reason for its occurrence, often involving attempting to blame the victim and not the perpetrator. This is also referred to as ‘rape culture’, established by activist Tarana Burke’s highly influential #METOO movement. An example of victim blaming is a focus on clothing; victims are often asked ‘what were you wearing?’ suggesting their choice of clothing caused the assault. This perspective assumes the victim had a choice and/or that only ‘promiscuous women’ get sexually assaulted. In many scenarios people want to distance themselves from violence, thinking if they don’t dress in a ‘sexy way’, it won’t happen to them. This unjust stigma has created an anxiety in many women today, preventing some from ever coming forward for support after an assault has occurred or suffering PTSD and depression alone.
Where does this stereotype come from?
From my dissertation investigations I found clothing stereotypes are the issue. What we wear and how we portray ourselves creates pre-concepted narratives about our personality, class, and identity. Evidenced in studies at New York and Princeton universities, the study found faces paired with smarter, more expensive clothes were judged as more competent. This is also rooted in historical classism; that your clothing represents your class, occupation, and wealth. I conducted my own interviews and surveys asking people what clothes they view as sexy, with common answers being: lace, red, thongs, short skirts, stockings, typically clothing advertised to us as ‘sexy’. This is where I believe the problem lies, sex is stigmatised for women, therefore sexually viewed womenswear clothing is also stigmatised. Allowing a grey area to form assuming clothing as a form of consent, this idea that dressing ‘sexy’ or ‘skimpy’ is ‘asking for it’.
Is there a correlation between clothing and sexual assault?…… No!
Proven in a 2013 art project by Jen Brockman. Brockman is the director of sexual assault prevention and rape education at the University of Arkansas. Her installation collected stories of sexual violence, by survivors submitting their stories anonymously. University students replicated the outfits described in the stories for the exhibit. The exhibition clearly points out that there is no trend to the clothing worn, no reoccurring theme, no specific style or aesthetic, just typical garments, and outfits. The exhibition proves victim blaming is wrong and unjust, a part of rape culture, this culture which tries to put blame on the victim in order to protect the perpetrator. Clothing NEVER causes an assault, you should never be made to feel guilty or shamed for wearing something you feel good in. You will always be a victim of a crime and they will always be the guilty perpetrator, it’s their fault not yours.
There are ways in which we can prevent this stigma. I, myself design womenswear all about inclusivity, function, problem solving and adaptability, breaking stereotypes surrounding clothing. As a society we are beginning to move away from stereotypes and assuming things about each other, but this however needs a lot more work. Fighting back against perceptions by educating others is the best way to start, even just by challenging your own judgments. We all do it, no one’s perfect, but you can call yourself out. For example, have you ever thought or called someone a slag? Why did you think that? What effect might that have? Unpack the thought process in your head, this is growth and it’s great. You can also politely say to mates, “don’t say that it’s not cool” or “that could be harmful don’t say stuff like that”. Change is easier than you think, by not correcting each other we cause the taboo. We need large amounts of people to be helping and educating each other to create change. Which is most definitely possible.
Thank you for reading
Signposted list of various resources available in the UK for assistance and support with mental health and sexual violence. Different organisations provide different services for different cases and people, including male and female and LGBTQIA+.
- You can also anomalously report crime via CrimeStoppers-uk.org
Nottingham and NTU support
Nottingham Trent University Sexual Violence Support Service
- Specialised support for anyone who has experienced sexual harm of any kind, whether recently or the past. Visit www.ntu.ac.uk/sexualviolencesupport to find out more and get support.
- Topaz Centre – 0800 085 9993, email@example.com
- Nottingham Sexual Violence Support Services – (Helpline) 0115 941 0440, (24hr Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline) 0808 800 0340
- Revenge Porn Helpline – 0345 6000 459, firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional Support from NTU
- Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
- Health and Wellbeing resources
- NTSU Information and Advice service
- Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
- Student Minds or Student Space
All the listed charities and organisations accept donations if you felt inspired to make a difference. You can also volunteer for local shelters or contact any of these services asking how you can help. I’d also recommend taking part in the consent is everything program.