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Sexual Harassment, Rape, and The Clothes We Wear

Sexual Harassment, Rape, and The Clothes We Wear

July 06, 2016

It was a gorgeous DC day and I was loving my sunny early afternoon walk. I was on my way to a fantastic human rights-related event, wearing professional attire, and taking a moment to catch up with a family member on the phone during my commute.

Immediately everything changed. This idyllic moment was interrupted by sexual, vulgar language directed at me by a loud, aggressive male voice. I instantly became very aware of my surroundings, plotting various escape routes into nearby restaurants should the speaker come closer. I took a quick look to orient myself and saw he was double my size. The comments continued, with a level of vulgarity that I would be ashamed to write about, and my heart thumped and pace quickened. A few minutes later I was nowhere near this stranger, but I was shaken all day.

Just a week before this incident I had read the powerful testimony of the survivor in the Stanford rape case. I previously worked at a rape crisis center, and I’m familiar with the statistic that one in six women in the US will be a victim of sexual violence in her lifetime. No physical harm was done to me in this instance, but those words struck an incredible fear in me that no one should have to experience. I wanted to speak my mind to this man and tell him he had no right to speak to me, a stranger, in this offensive way. However, what would happen to me if I confronted him? He was twice my size. He could have a gun.

Turning back to the Stanford case that was very much on my mind after this experience, our legal system is ill-equipped to handle cases of rape. We live in a world of victim blaming and “slut shaming” where victims themselves often have their clothing, their past behaviors, and even their current consensual relationships scrutinized if they bravely come forward. I shouldn’t need to tell you that it was the middle of the day and I was wearing professional attire and on the way to a work meeting when this happened. Yet, part of me still feels the need to share that I wasn’t “scantily clad” with a few drinks in me on the way to a bar at 1 am when this happened. We somehow still link clothing with rape and harassment, and I am so grateful for the photography of Katherine Cambareri, debunking myths around the clothing victims wore when they were raped.

Sexual harassment and rape also has a tragic and powerful link to the lives of the women who make out clothes. The vast majority of the global garment industry is women seeking economic opportunity and a better life for themselves and their children. However, the vast majority of supervisors are male. It is an industry where there is rampant slavery, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, rape, and pregnancy discrimination.

As someone who didn’t feel I could speak out for fear of what would happen to me I felt a stronger link to the women in the global garment industry who experience this feeling all too often. I ask that you join with me to be a force for change. By demanding transparency and only purchasing from companies that have strong standards in place that protect workers from harassment and discrimination we can fight back. Join me to demand better.



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