Does Provocative Dress Ever Cause Rape?

Some friends were discussing the “Slut Walks” that keep popping up, and someone asked whether provocative clothing ever plays a role in rape. Interesting that “provocative” is used to describe a style of dress, suggesting that clothes actually provoke something. Attention? Desire? Rape?

Women don’t cause rape by what they wear. Asking about correlation between clothing and rape is tricky, though.

To make clear, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Someone has to act to commit rape. No one forces that choice. If seeing an enticing woman led men to conclude, “I’ve got to rape her,” all men would be rapists. Yet few are.

And plenty of assaulted women are not dressed sexily, including women draped in head-to-toe burqas. Interestingly, veiled women are blamed, too: “He must have seen a bit of her ankle, wrist, hair, neck… Who could resist!?”

Strippers are the most sexually “provocative” of all, yet patrons manage to contain themselves. Yes, bouncers provide security, but they aren’t stationed with blinders blocking their sight. And who’s watching them? Male customers aren’t physically restrained. The men are actually controlling themselves.

Sociologists who have interviewed rapists, read their accounts and looked at the circumstances of their crimes have learned that they have a variety of motives. Here are a few:

Some rape to feel powerful, others gang rape to demonstrate their “manhood” (defined as powerful, dominant, violent, virile, and not gay) to each other and fraternally bond, some become aroused by sadistically bringing sex and violence together, others seek to harm an entire race, community or nation by using sexual assault as a political weapon, still others seek revenge against someone other than the rape victim. And some misread cues.

Let’s take a look at these mistaken cue readers. Here’s where it gets tricky because a correlation between clothing and rape is not the same thing as sexy clothing causing assault.

Rapists who misread cues believe the following: men are naturally assertive and women are naturally passive. There are “good girls” and “bad girls.” Bad girls secretly want sex but can’t admit it, so they trick men into forcing sex. How do these “bad girls” send cues (in these men’s minds)? By doing things like smiling at them, or making eye contact, or by showing a little leg or cleavage. So these men may see a low-cut blouse as a “rape me” signal. But while they also see a smile or eye contact as a sexual come-on, women are only blamed for the dress. Have you ever heard anyone say, “Never look at a man,” or “Never smile at a man, he may rape you!”

Women, if you think dressing modestly  will protect you, it won’t. Most rapists don’t care about “cues,” and just in case you run into those who do, you better not look at, or smile at, any man either. Just to be safe.

Should you really have to live that way? Or should men choose not to rape? As most do?

The number of assaults will not go down if women make sure to cover up. The cue-reading rapist has decided to attack someone, and is seeking justification. He will rape and he will find something to blame other than himself.

By placing women in charge of his sexuality he abdicates responsibility (it’s her fault). How convenient for him!

And while different rapists have different ways of thinking, they are all sexist. At the least, they believe they have more right to a woman’s body than a woman does, herself.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Mind of a Rapist: Trying to Bridge a Gap between a Small Self and a Big Man
Rape Epidemic in South Africa. Why?
Rape Victims Shamed Into Suicide. In Pakistan. In America

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 23, 2015, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. I find this post to be very controversial between men and women because on one hand, more men view rape as the woman’s fault where as women see rape as the man’s fault. But who is actually right? In my opinion, rape is absolutely never okay. Rape is a criminal offence that causes physical, mental, and psychological pain in almost all cases. In any case of rape where a man has dominance over the woman, the woman is always the victim. Clothing can be a part of a person’s personality, culture, and or religious beliefs and it is something that people must wear because nudity is illegal in most places. If clothing is made to protect people and it is actually made to cover your nude body, I don’t understand how any type of clothing would be considered “provocative”. However, I do believe that if a woman is completly nude outside or somewhere public where it is illegal for her own person safety purposes and she gets allegedly rapped, that would be the only exception because she has also commited a criminal offence. Overall I do not believe that women provoke men in anyway into rape rather it be their appearance, occupation, location, or whatever they may have said to the man. I believe that “rape” is actually a sick mental disease that a man gets and it can possibly be cured with treatment and prison time.

    • Thanks for being so thoughtful with this topic. Interestingly how people feel about this isn’t related so much to their gender as to how they feel about gender equality. Men and women who believe in gender equality tend to believe that Women shouldn’t be punished for rape. But also it depends on the environment you grew up in. If women are constantly blamed by the people you know, You are more likely to internalize that. And even if a woman is naked it’s no excuse, Men can still control themselves — as they do at strip clubs (They aren’t chained down to their chairs!). Another thing is that people tend to think it’s a mental illness but it’s actually — again — related to male dominance. Take a look at this post: Mind of a Rapist: Trying to Bridge a Gap between a Small Self and a Big Man

  2. No, I don’t think in most cases a rape victim was chosen because how they are dressed. I believe it to be someone that they feel they could over power. I am not even sure if it is sexual. I do understand that in some cases it could cause someone to lust and maybe even attack, but so many give it up for free that there is no need for someone to rape for sex. I had an incidence when I was about 15, my friends brother tried to attack me I was fully dressed. I went to her house and he answered the door. He told me she was in the room and before I knew it he had me on the ground and I was fighting for dear life.Thank goodness he had a struggle trying to get anything off of me before someone walked in and he let me up. I think if I had on a snow suit he still would have attacked.

    • I’m so sorry this happened to you.

      And clothing never causes rape. Men can totally control themselves.

      In strip clubs with completely naked women the security isn’t pushing men away constantly, The men aren’t chained to their chairs. *The men are controlling themselves.* And the security men aren’t gay.

  3. I completely agree with the article. Rape has nothing to do with the victim’s appearance. It is all about the decency that everyone should have. But then again, not everyone has the privilege to be educated by such. Coincidentally, most rapist are from low class with poor family background and uneducated. I am not gonna blame the victim, but there must be reasons why those mindset exists. People used to give advice to female about this because back then, most people were not educated or have such decency. In conclusion, I agree this needs to change since globalization happened. Information and education can be found everywhere. So it is no longer necessary to do it.

    • Actually, it’s not education that makes a difference (with rates of rape) so much as a “dominator” versus a “partnership mentality.” Dominator cultures are patriarchal, with men dominating women. And rape is one way to dominate them. Next, the woman is punished for being raped — that helps with the domination mentality. He can do whatever he wants and she gets punished for his crimes.

      In cultures that are strongly gender-equal you actually don’t find rape, even if they aren’t highly educated. Like the Indians of America’s east coast prior to, and around the time of, European contact. And as the United States has become more gender equal, rates of rape are going down.

  4. When I began to read this article, the first thought that popped into my head was the memory of being sent to the principle’s office of my middle school for wearing shorts that were “just too short” (or a couple centimeters above my fingertips). There were several other girls that got caught for the same crime or sneaking around the halls in their spaghetti strap tank tops. During the time I didn’t really think much about. I assumed rules were just rules and showing too much of my thigh or shoulder were just too inappropriate for the boys to see when none of us really even understood what sex or sexual attraction was anyway. It was just “too distracting for the boys” in class. But as I matured and grew older I thought to myself “why were the girls punished for something that boys should be taught not to do?” “Why did the girls who showed too much skin punished by having to wear the shameful PE clothes” ( as everyone knew what it meant – “you decided to show too much skin for attention” ). Just some of my thoughts to think about.
    “And plenty of assaulted women are not dressed sexily, including women draped in head-to-toe burqas. Interestingly, veiled women are blamed, too: “He must have seen a bit of her ankle, wrist, hair, neck… Who could resist!?”
    This section of the article is what really made me thought about the “shameful” memory I had in middle school. I feel like hiding away shoulder and thigh skin is something that can build up as a “what’s behind that door” fetish which can maybe possibly lead to rape in our society.

  5. I certainly agree, that women don’t cause rape by what they wear. It has been questioned if the number of assaults will not go down if women make sure to cover up. I strongly feel that the answer would be no. Sexual assault is not the victims fault is the action of the offender who’s to blame and knowing what behaviors are right from wrong. The sexual activity involved in an assault can include many different experiences. Women can be the victims of unwanted touching, grabbing, oral sex, anal sex, sexual penetration with an object, and/or sexual intercourse. For example take the Mob in Cologne Germany where hundreds of men began a rampage to sexually assault women by groping them. These were normal women going about their day dressed completely normal (non- provocative) you could say. These women were not giving off any sex vibes or hidden innuendoes of wanting to be raped. Just going about their day and just like that they were assaulted. So the theory of dressing sexy cause’s women to be raped goes out the window. My feeling is that a sex offender or rapist will find something to blame other than himself.

  6. A woman’s dress should not be blame for rape. A dress is a dress as simple as that.

    We live in a culture that has low regards for women. Women are used as sex objects dressed in provocative clothing or showing most of their skins in commercials, magazines and advertisements where women supposing possessed sexuality that are either given to men or taken by men. Women are paid less for their work, women are seen as stayed at home who do all the housework and cooking to please their men. In order to minimize the number of rapes occurrences we need to change how we teach our children and our biases against women. Women should be treated as equal, girls should be taught to do as boys do or capable of in terms of their strength, capabilities and rights to be treated equal. Our society today is not healthy therefore the occurrences of rapes due to the mind set that men have of women.

  7. The clothing argument never fails to make me angry, but I suppose people will always seek to justify their actions.Nobody is asking for it. Nobody.

  8. It’s sad that people have such mentally and thinking.

  9. Yes, many think that women get raped because the way they dressed!! You will find many around. Long back, I had written a poem when a girl was raped and killed brutally after that.

  10. What a woman wears is her choice. Whether its about dressing up just to feel good about herself or maybe even to impress the opposite sex, that hardly matters. Even boys dress well to impress opposite sex. Are they getting raped for that?
    Its a mental disorder to think a man has a right to force a woman for sex. Most of the times its brought in by the kind of upbringing where everyone around him has a sexist and sadist mentality. Where women silently bear torture from men.
    Other times it can be a sick perverted of getting attention and feeling powerful.
    I completely agree to all the things you you mentioned her.
    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2016.

    • Sure is her choice. And the vast majority of men don’t rape. Guys can definitely control themselves. And it really isn’t about the dress, anyway.

      Thanks for the holiday greetings.

  11. Provocative dress definitely causes attention, but not rape. Well said BB. my girlfriend and her female roommates discussed how sometimes they can get the feeling that men are raping them with their eyes by they way they stare. provocative dress amplifies this kind of attention, but to no fault of the woman. Women aren’t asking to be raped if they wear skimpy clothing.
    teaching respect at an early age is proper means halting sexism.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Sam.

      Interestingly, a male student of mine talked about a world turned halfway round in cosplay, such that he experienced feeling like he was being raped with a woman’s eyes.

      But we can all learn to be respectful, Can’t we?

  12. This is a controversial topic in my country. Most men are of the opinion that dress does provoke rape! Those morons forget that about kids who get raped. Little kids, who don’t have any idea of sex or provocation. Recently, a college has put restrictions on the girl students from wearing short dresses, hot pants and similar attires. Hilarious indeed as you’ve rightly said, rape has nothing to do with the clothing. If it had, rape would never have occurred to burqa-clad women or children.

    • A lot of people in my country, both men and women, believe that clothing provokes rape. Interestingly, both rape and clothing restrictions have a similar foundation: privileging men. By controlling women. Rapists control women. And, Telling women to dress modestly teaches women to dress in ways dictated by others, getting them accustomed to being controlled in very personal ways.

      And interestingly, we don’t tell men not to dress provocatively, or women will rape them. (Some do rape.)

      It also helps the (Usually male) rapist to get away with it. Because the violent acts against her were her own fault. Incredibly sad. Leaving women more fearful and even shamed, and more victimized when the perpetrator isn’t punished. It’s an extremely effective way to create a sense of male superiority within a culture.

  13. Certainly provocative clothing can be a trigger for the sexually addicted male (or the sexually addicted female, although I suspect few males would tell or resist were they to be raped by a woman), depending entirely on their degree of obsession. Unlike current thought, I’m not convinced that “power” is the basic motivation for most rapes.

    It appears to me that sexual addiction–a mental disorder–is the primary cause of rape, but there are degrees of seriousness, just as there is in virtually any “disorder,” running from hard-core to mild and harmless.

    I can attest to this, although I cannot say that I am out of the ordinary because I don’t know the sexual predilections of other men. My own addiction is mild and harmless. I often (virtually daily) enjoy fantasies, and often they are fantasies of a taboo nature (never concerning children, to be clear), although I have absolutely no desire, whatsoever, to act them out in reality, especially those of a taboo nature.

    Apparently, like most folks, I thoroughly enjoy well written erotic stories in most genres–subtle seduction being my favorite. Recently, I’ve begun writing an erotic science fiction novel. I think my self-analysis, to which I am always prone, gives me a good understand of how some people will become so deeply obsessive that acting out would be a virtual imperative. I’m sure you’ve come across such as this in your own studies and research.

    A person inflicted with this deeper level of obsession doesn’t deserve imprisonment, but I think he should be institutionalized for public safety. It isn’t clear to me that he could have acted in any other way. Contrary to conservative thought, not everyone has full, ethical and socially acceptable control over their actions and desires.

    Fifty Shades of Gray, for example, demonstrates a man’s sexual obsession with S&M to the point that sadism becomes his avenue to his most intense orgasms–his greatest satisfaction and release–even while he retains enough ethical conscience to back off when the subject of his pleasure has had more than she wants. I’m quite sure there are some unfortunate folks who would not be so quick to back off.

    I consider myself quite fortunate that pain, or the infliction thereof, has always been a complete nonstarter for me.

    Did I give you TMI?

    • What I have found is that men who are not rapists have a hard time understanding men who are. It’s very common in our society for both men and women to fantasize about BDSM. (No wonder. From the time we our little we are bombarded by sexualized violent/dominating images — something you don’t find in all cultures.) It’s much more unusual for these people to actually commit rape. And 1) men who rape talk about power as being a primary motive 2) sadistic rapists, as you describe them, get turned on by power, and fantasy and role-playing aren’t enough – there may be some other factor involved that gets them to actually commit rape 3) rape — and eroticized violence — are virtually nonexistent in cultures with gender equality, like the American Indians of the East Coast.

  14. To my friends on wordpress in desired all
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you for it
    old years, soon runs out and see you in
    2016 from Herluf Clausen.

  15. About a quarter of the population of the world ( equally split gender wise !! ) display psychopathic tendencies , rapists most definitely fall into this group !! What I am sick of is ” society ” stating that ALL men are evil , sex crazed rapists. I’ve been hit with a stiletto heel by a total stranger woman across the back of my head for no reason , I simply walked past a group of these foul female specimens minding my own business , I did not retaliate , despite this drawing blood. Women are NOT all nurturing & nice , very few are nowadays !

  16. `To make clear, sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Someone has to act to commit rape. No one forces that choice. If seeing an enticing woman led men to conclude, “I’ve got to rape her,” all men would be rapists. Yet few are´…

    That is certainly a good point dear Georgia.. I believe that all rapists are Power assertive rapists somehow… and by that we are making reference to those ones for whom rape becomes a way to compensate for their underlying feelings of inadequacy and feeds their issues of mastery, control,strength, intimidation, authority and capability… Source

    I have always wonder as a women how a men could achieve satisfaction under restrictive circumstances and make it through even despite her victim physical and psychological rejection… I guess that is something hard to understand… a sort of major turn off, somehow.

    Great, thought provoking post as always… All my best wishes. Aquileana 🍒🌟

    • Power may well lie behind every sort of incentive for rape. An important difference is HOW power is involved. A sadistic rapist uses power because he (usually) has learned to associate it with eroticism. And role-playing isn’t quite enough to get him going. Guys who are in fraternities, Sports teams and gangs also rape because of power – but not their personal power. It’s more ritualistic. The idea is to demonstrate male power and dominance over females, but the individual involved isn’t necessarily motivated in that way. They are feeling pressure to conform to the ritual in order to be accepted by the other guys, and not be ostracized. War crimes are similar. The overall motive is a ritual to make a group of people feel powerless. The individual men who conform aren’t necessarily interested in personal power. The “Cue-readers” may also be motivated by power in some way. And in fact part of their worldview involves seeing men as dominant and active and women as submissive and passive. But I haven’t seen any data on them that moves beyond that point. They certainly might be the “Walter Mitty” type, too, who is trying to bridge a gap between the disempowered person they see themselves as and the powerful person they see rapists as. Normal, healthy man don’t rape women just because they are rejected. Just like normal healthy women don’t attack people who reject their friendship. Or men who reject them sexually – and about half of my women students have asked men out, and some of them were rejected. All man probably get rejected, but only a very small percentage of men rape. And prostitutes, Who are willing, or one of the biggest categories of victims. It’s not that the men don’t want to pay. It’s that it’s easier to get away with raping a prostitute.

      Thanks for your comment. I think I will write on this topic some time: how rape is always related to power.

      Very few men are going to rape just because a woman rejected him. The rejection might trigger his own sense of powerlessness, and he might get back at her because of that. But it’s a power issue not the sex issue in that case. In fact, because of our double standard in the United States — One that celebrates men who are sexual but punishes women who are sexual — a lot of men have been taught to respect a woman more if she doesn’t have sex. And a lot of men simply understand that the woman might not be ready, or is waiting for marriage, and simply respects that.

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