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The four-letter word

| Friday, October 10, 2014

A four-letter word has plagued the lives of women since their entry into junior high. The usage of the term “slut” has been intended to discredit women, lessen their self-worth and hurt them.

At a young age, we are taught to identify “sluts.” As a result, we often observe a woman’s neckline rather than how she treats others. We care more about her sex life than her opinion. We hear how she said “yes” to a drink instead of how she said “no” to her abuser. We look at her bruises and see only the outfit she was wearing. We shame her for something that was out of her control and blame anything but the person who committed the act against her. Slut-shaming leads to victim-blaming, and both reinforce rape culture.

Rape, by definition, is the “unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.” Sexual assaults are not always reported, but when they are, the victim often receives backlash from society, which places the blame on the victim rather than her attacker. One of the most common methods of blame used is the victim’s choice of dress.

In Italy in the 1990s, a young girl was raped by her driving instructor. The case made it all the way to the Italian Supreme Court where the perpetrator was released based on the argument that, due to the tightness of the victim’s jeans, she would have had to help remove them to have sex; therefore, it was consensual.

The disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham recently has been circulating in the news. One of the most publicized pictures is of her outfit on the night of her disappearance. Graham is pictured in a crop top, leading some in our society to comment, “She was dressed like a slut, so she was basically asking for it.”

In an attempt to address campus rape prevention in 2011, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti said, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say; however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” sparking the first of many protest marches titled SlutWalk.

When thinking about rape on college campuses, the all-too-scary statistic “one in four” comes to mind. One in four college women report being victims of attempted rape or survivors of rape. I will never forget the first sexual assault report I received via email from campus security, and I have not forgotten the others that followed. These emails made me aware that the campuses of both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are not as safe as I thought they were. It needs to be known that the clothes on a woman’s body are not an invitation for rape and the oppression caused by slut-shaming needs to stop. We need to work together to spread sexual assault awareness so we can protect the places that we have come to call home and the people we have learned to call family.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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