To all victims/survivors of sexual harassment, rape, and abuse,
The issue of sexual harassment/rape/abuse has been a hot topic in the media lately. I’m sure you’ve heard the hoopla. You may have even posted “#MeToo.” I hope that it helped you. I know that it helped so many of us know that we’re not alone. But I’m sure that you’ve also heard the idea that dressing b’Tzniut, as in covering up more, can protect you from these things. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I know that it’s wrong.
Tzniut is a beautiful and sacred thing. We are all (men AND women) supposed to dress, behave, and carry ourselves with dignity. However, it’s said that the more holy and sacred something is, the more easily it can be corrupted. This is one more instance of that.
There are those who point out that since sexual harassment, rape, and abuse do happen in the Jewish community, it’s obvious that dressing b’Tzniut does not actually prevent these things. I agree. And there are those who say that the idea of “covering up more can protect you” is just victim-blaming. I agree with that too. However, the problem goes beyond that.
The idea that covering up more can protect anyone from harassment, rape, or abuse is based on a fallacy that has plagued this issue since the beginning. That fallacy is the belief that harassment, rape, and abuse are crimes of sex. People believe that those crimes are committed by people who are hungry and desperate for a sexual encounter and therefore will force it on the most convenient victims they can find. Of course, people think that if they cover themselves more and don’t look like sexual objects, they won’t be good targets and the predators will leave them alone. None of this is true.
The truth is that harassment, rape, and abuse are crimes of power and control. People who are simply desperate for a sexual encounter can get one without forcing it on anyone. The predators who commit these crimes are people who are filled with anger and hatred. The sexual component is the means to end, not the end itself. Sexual predators hate someone (or more than one) and they’re taking that hatred out on someone else who fits that type. The message they send is “I have such total control of you that I can even get to your body.” They don’t choose their targets based on convenience but by type. It could be because you work as a teacher like the teacher he hates. It could be because you have brown hair like his mother whom he hates. His type could be anything and it’s always something over which you have no control.
And that’s exactly the point. You either fit the predator’s type or you don’t. If you don’t fit his type, then you’re not a target even if you’re wearing a bikini. And if you do fit his type, you’re a target even if you’re wearing a burqa.
None of this is to say that there’s no point in dressing b’Tzniut. Like I said before, tzniut is a beautiful and sacred thing. And it does help you in a lot of ways. But covering up more does not protect you from predators. If you went through sexual harassment, rape, or abuse, it has nothing to do with how much or how little you were wearing.
It is NEVER your fault. Please remember that.