Dress Codes and Violence

Content note: This post includes references to child sexual abuse, without description.

In second grade, I attended a Christian school. We didn’t have uniforms, but we did have a strict dress code. I remember one boy got ier azn trouble for wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt. Part of the dress code was that we had to dress up on Wednesdays for chapel, and for girls that meant we had to wear dresses.

The first time my friend’s father abused me, it was a Wednesday. I remember that I was wearing a blue and white pin striped dress with a wide lace collar. I was abused in that dress, and that for another year, regardless of what I was wearing.

When I finally worked up the nerve to tell my mother what was going on, she believed me. She had the police come take my statement the next morning, and they believed me too. I started attending group therapy for girls my age who had also been abused, and they all believed me as well. The person who didn’t believe me was the state prosecutor.

He said that a jury would never believe me. They would never understand why I had kept going back to my friend’s house after the first time her father abused me. And he blamed me for wearing a dress the first time it happened.

He blamed me for wearing a dress I’d been ordered to wear by my school dress code. The rapist probably did too.

I realized just this morning that at least half of what makes me so anxious and upset about dress codes is this. Telling girls how to dress to avoid male attention doesn’t work, but it gives our abusers an excuse to blame us for their actions.

He abused me in shorts and pants and yes dresses too. But my dress did not cause his pedophilia. My dress did not cause him to act on his pedophilia. My dress was a child’s dress. And another adult made me wear it.

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