Instead of being educated girls are being sexualised.
*Some names have been changed by women who wished to stay anonymous
“You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
“Lindsay was asked to show the court the knickers she had been wearing at the time of the attack.”
“It is quite clear she is a very disturbed child and a very needy child and she is a sexually precocious child. She liked to dress provocatively.”
None of these are horrifying words of fiction. This is the reality for women who are victims in sexual assault cases.
The victim’s character and appearance are torn to pieces to decide whether or not she was a deserving or undeserving victim.
To be considered an undeserving victim women must be a virgin, wear modest clothing and have bruises to show for the attack.
Rape doesn’t follow a criteria. It can happen to anyone – whatever they wear or however they act. Yet, patriarchal society offers no sympathy or justice for women who fall outside of the ideal victim tick box. For those who wore a thong, short skirt, tight clothing etc during their attack, they are continuously presented with men in positions of power – police, judges, lawyers, journalists who blame them for their attack. All throughout the perpetrator is considered an afterthought.
Girls will learn the way they dress will result in the level of respect they deserve
Victim blaming discourse persists across the world. But where does it all begin?
The disturbing mentality which places the onus on women to prevent their own assault is first instilled into many girls during secondary school. In the UK, authority figures in secondary schools heavily police the appearance of girls.
For female students at The West Bridgford secondary school in Nottingham the practice of ordering girls to kneel on chairs to measure the length of skirts was implemented. Girls were sent home if the hemline of their skirts were more than 5cm away from the chair and demanded to change into a longer skirt.
This whole act is humiliating. It’s the first time many girls learn that the way they dress will result in the level of respect they deserve. A lesson that will stay embedded in the minds of girls forever. The lesson will insidiously whisper into girls ears when they’re getting ready to go out, and dictate their fashion choices.
Most importantly, the education system has seemingly normalised the male gaze.
*Rachel Stewart, 22-year-old ex-student from Harlow, Essex, who wishes to remain anonymous said that her school policed the length of skirts: “In case a male teacher looked up our skirts. Or an older man looked at our legs as we walked home.”
Young girls are being punished for disturbing male desires. The school girl fantasy continues to be present throughout media, frequently shown in music videos including Britney Spears “…Baby One More Time” video, in which a 17-year-old Spears was dressed in a school girl uniform donning pigtails and many men desired her.
In 2015 SKYN Condoms Millennial Sex Survey found that 18% of men like their female partner to dress up as a schoolgirl. This finding may not necessarily mean the men in the survey have a sexual attraction towards underage girls. However, there’s still an attempt from the men to assert dominance.
As fashion photographer Sante D’Orazio, wrote the school girl uniform signifies: “Virginity, the untouched, the ideal, the romantic notion of pure.” The innocence of childhood is considered lustful for many men and this is incredibly worrying.
Once again this is the man’s problem, this is something society needs to punish them for. But who receives the blame? Yet again it’s passed onto the victims – a young girl wearing a short school skirt is deemed to be “asking for it”.
Recently, Lytchett Minister School in Dorset has come under fire after a video on sexual harassment mentioned that girls should lower their skirts in advice on how to stay safe. The headteacher has since apologised. However, the same message rings clear – victims continue to be blamed.
The problem doesn’t stop with creepy older men. In fact, such attitudes begin with male students – such students lack education on consent. Schools become the breeding ground for allowing men to get away with the sexualisation of women.
This has been made clear by the website Everyone’s Invited which now has over 15,000 testimonies of young women and girls sharing their experiences of misogyny, harassment, abuse and assault. Unfortunately, a large number of anonymous testimonies come from within the education system – from university students to pupils aged nine.
The website has prompted action. The Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, and Shadow Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Minister Jess Phillips have penned a letter to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to call on the government to develop a national strategy to tackle the issue.
Phillips said: “The government have known the scale of sexual harassment and abuse in schools, colleges and universities for years and have done nowhere near enough to tackle the endemic problem.”
At Rachel’s academy girls were banned from revealing their shoulders as it was considered “too distracting for the male students”. The 22-year-old ex-student felt that: “girls were just seen as sexual objects at school. Something as innocent as sitting in class on a hot day and taking off your blazer was seen as sexual, making us feel worthless no matter what.”
The education of girls is not prioritised. Instead, the informal lesson that is taught is that men of all ages will take any opportunity to sexualise female students and then blame them for it.
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