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Does Modesty Really Matter?
Last week I started another discussion on how we can lower the risk of sexual assault. I was replying to a commenter who was replying to this post who said that I was blaming women who are raped by arguing that they should be modest. Modesty, she said, bore no bearing on rape.

I said much of what I wanted to say in that post, but a few things remain.

To tackle her idea, I want you to picture yourself as the youth leader for a youth group at an amusement park. It's a big outing, and twenty youth have decided to go, and you were asked along as a parent supervisor. You have under your care three girls, all aged 14. Two are dressed in appropriate shorts and T-shirts; one has on short shorts and a bikini top, with a halter tied around it. She is showing more cleavage that you ever have.

Who are you going to be scared for? Who are you going to try to protect?

I have been in this exact situation, and it is not fun. I was paranoid all day about the attention the girl in the bikini was getting, because she was inviting it. She would talk the boys up in line. They would leer at her, and she would leer back. At one point I realized she was texting a guy that she had just stood in line with at a roller coaster. She had managed to get his number when I wasn't looking.

The other two girls started to pull back from her, because they were distinctly uncomfortable with all her boy craziness. I stuck to her like glue and started glaring at anybody who looked at her. It didn't distract the starers.

How would you have felt?

This girl is under your care, and you know what boys are thinking when they are looking at her. And the boys looking at her are not just 14. They are much older.

I wasn't scared she was actually going to be assaulted, because I had my eye on her, and I wasn't worried somebody would grab her. But she was inviting bad attention. She was sharing her cell phone number. And eventually it had to be dealt with.

What was I scared of? I was scared these guys would start calling or texting her, or finding her on Facebook, and they would show up in her life, looking for something (and we all know what that is). But this girl did not know what "that" is. She wasn't trying to seduce them. She didn't want to sleep with them. She simply wanted attention; she wanted boys to think she was pretty, and that is what she thought pretty was. She was completely out of her league, and she didn't know it. Even if she weren't assaulted--which, of course, most women aren't--she is still, by acting this way, opening herself up to situations that she just isn't ready for and won't be able to handle.

And in the process, I believe she was putting herself in danger. She wasn't putting boundaries around herself, and guys who were looking for one thing would naturally flock to her, and when they didn't get it, they might get aggressive. I'm not saying every guy would; but some might. And the problem is you never know which guy is which.

So let's boil this down to a few key points:

1. Some guys are very interested in having as much sex as possible with as many women as possible. I assume we all agree here.

2. Some women are likewise interested in that.

3. The way these women show that they are interested in that is that they dress to show how sexy they are. They flaunt it.

4. Men, in trying to pick out the women in a crowd who may share their interest in anonymous encounters, will tend to look for the ones who are dressed for it and who are trying to make eye contact and flirt.

5. Therefore, if you dress like that and act that way, you will attract attention that is highly sexual in nature. It doesn't mean all the attention you attract will be like that, but some will. It also doesn't mean that you are trying to attract that kind of attention. But you are dressing like those who do, and you are giving out a certain message, whether you mean to or not.

6. A low percentage of the men whose attention you attract will be willing to take things to another level if you say no.

I would think that we can all agree on those points, don't we?

My commenter said that modest women get raped and immodest women get raped. Again, I agree. But here's the thing: rape rarely occurs out of the blue. It usually starts with something--maybe you meet a guy, and he seems harmless enough, and you start talking or dancing. And then things go downhill.

Now, I want to acknowledge that there is a stream of thought that goes something like this: if women dress a certain way, they inflame men's lust, and thus the woman is responsible for any sexual assault that occurs. Certain Muslim imams, for instance, have said that if a woman isn't veiled, rape is her fault, because she inflamed the guy. I am not saying that at all.

That insinuates that men are pure, and then a woman topples him over the edge. He never would have done it if not for the woman. Not true. What I'm saying is that there are men who definitely would do it. It's not that women inflamed them; they had already decided to treat women like sex objects. They had already decided that what they were interested in was not a relationship, but simply a physical encounter. The woman did not cause this decision; it was already the guy's.

Hence point #1 above: these men exist. It's not women's fault that they do; the men have decided to live a life characterized by lust. They're the kind of guy who would chat up a 14-year-old in a bikini top in line at an amusement park. They have already decided they're looking for sex.

And how do they find it? They look for women who seem to be interested in the same thing, and the easiest way to find those women is to check out who is dressed like that and who is flirting. So it is not women's fault for causing the lust; the lust is there. A small percentage of these men may also become violent if they don't get what they want (most won't, of course). But you can't identify who those violent ones are. The only thing they tend to have in common is that they are looking for women who are similarly interested primarily in a physical relationship.

If you don't want to attract the kind that is mostly just interested in sex, then make sure that you don't meet this kind of person. Don't send out those signals. Even though the vast majority won't rape you, they may pressure you or make you feel really dirty. I would rather that my kids start talking to guys that they connected with through common interests or experiences, rather than just guys they attract for simply physical reasons. When you connect with someone because of common interests, friends, or experiences, then you know them on a certain level. You know more about them. You know who they know. And because of that, you can make a better decision about how to act with that guy. When the guys that you attract are all basically there for one reason, you can't make those sorts of decisions about whether this is a good person to be with. You don't have as much information to go on--and what you do have is not good.

Will that eliminate rape? Nope. Not at all. Often guys that seem perfect--even Christian guys--can turn violent and rape you on a date. Absolutely. That's why we need to be careful where we go no matter whether we're modest or not.

But do you really want to attract the kind of man who only is interested in sex? Do you want to attract the partier? Because let's face it, even if he didn't rape (and most won't), you'd still find yourself in a pretty terrible situation if he wanted to take it farther than you did. My little friend had no clue what she was attracting (though I ended up trying to explain it to her). If she actually had been alone with a guy like that, and he wanted to do more than hold her hand, she would have been really quite scarred. It isn't a situation you want to be in.

So don't do it. Girls think that "pretty" is what celebrities wear, and so they try to mimic these fashions they see on TV. But TV presents an unrealistic and extremely unhealthy picture of relationships. TV is based on the fact that sex will be the basis for all relationships, and that's awful. Don't let your girls give in to that.

Again: I am not saying that modest girls don't get raped, or that immodest girls asked for it. I am simply saying that when you dress inappropriately, you attract attention you really don't want, and some of that attention may be dangerous--not because of how you're dressed, but because of decisions the men have already made before they even saw you. Don't attract it in the first place and your life will be better, and marginally safer.

I'm not sure why this is so controversial, but if you still think I'm being too mean to women and blaming women for what they wear, before you write a comment, think back to my experience at that amusement park. Would you be equally concerned for all three girls, or mostly concerned for the one in the bikini? If you'd be mostly concerned for the one, why? And when you realize it's because of how she's dressed and how she's acting and the kind of attention she's getting, then you really believe my point, whether you want to admit it or not.

Sexual assault is a horrible thing. Living in a highly sexualized culture, where men can expect anonymous encounters, is a horrible thing. Why should we not try to fight against it by promoting modesty to discourage such sexual behaviour? I think then the world would be a much better place.

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At 8:06 AM , Blogger Mrs. Sam said…

Shelia, I couldn't agree more and as a youth leader I deal with the same darn issue. I think women forget the power we own in our bodies. We forget men see different and that isn't their fault it's how they're made! Think, waffle brain men, and spaghetti brain women! We're differently wired for all the right reasons, and still we get those wires crossed. We never know when we're speaking to someone of the opposite gender what struggles they are going through. Dressing modestly, as a woman of God, is helping someone else along in their journey. True, rape is never invited. It's a horrible and terrible, sick infliction of someone else's will on another. Date rape and rape in general are evil. Can we as women avoid it? Can we protect ourselves. I think for the most part we can do everything we know how to do. But as Christians, we don't walk in fear, we walk in faith and with that faith in full perspective, why would we ever want to derail a Christian mans walk by what we wear? Let's love our brothers enough to stop being a stumbling block. We do have power in our bodies. Besides, who do we want finishing our picture? Some random stranger, or, the man God planned for us since our beginning? And if we're called to be single, then dress well, invite the Lord to the wardrobe and ask Him what he'd like you to wear each day. He cares so much about the details. For all of us.


At 9:23 AM , Blogger Katy-Anne said…

I want to know why church youth groups allow people to go to a particular event if they are dressed inappropriately? Call their parents and send them home. Church youth groups should be concerned about the youth males they are bringing and be careful to try to shield their eyes from the young girls. Guys should not have to avert their gaze at youth and church related outings!


At 10:14 AM , Blogger Kim said…

Sheila, I was a young girl seeking attention from anyone and anywhere I could get it. I had been "man-handled" (molested) by so many different guys growing up and saw the attention that it lent me that I "thought" I could handle ANY of the attention that was brought my way. Unfortunately, I found out at the age of 13 that I REALLY didn't want what I thought I wanted. I really didn't grow up with any values and was looking to be loved and accepted. The husband (29) of the woman I babysat for "pre-arranged" my rape...of course I think he thought I wanted it from the flirtiness I seemed to display and possibly the clothes I work (tanks and shorts). He set up his wife to go out with her girlfriend and party the night away and stay the night at her girlfriends house, he told his wife that he would be on a business trip and had her ask me to stay the night and babysit their 6 month old baby...He went out and about 10 he came back home to be with "me" for the remainder of the evening. I remember thinking back then (having been sexually abused most of my childhood by uncles, my brother and neighborhood boys) that I would be fine having sex with someone, that it would be no big deal but as he was on top of me holding me down I just kept begging him to stop telling him that I didn't want to do that. I've been thinking lately at how much I was robbed...not having the "choice" to "freely" give that part of me makes me sad now. I figured out that I now "had" what guys wanted. That experience really damaged me for many years because I became VERY permiscious,having sex with ANYONE who wanted it.

Our 10 year old granddaughter appears to be heading down a similar path and I'm starting to freak out because she doesn't like me and won't listen to me. Her dad died last year and her mom is messed up in drugs and alcohol, she's wanting attention and at 10 is dressing to get it from guys...she's got short shorts and tops that show her cleavage and yes, she does have almost as much on top as I do. Her mom's boyfriend passed her in the kitchen the other day and reached out his hand and touched her, though I'm not sure WHERE - I just know handsy guys have MORE on their minds. I'm at a loss - so concerned and praying but am not sure what else I can do. Her dad had won the $4M lottery 6 months before he died so she has a cell phone and a facebook, all the "stuff" to give boys "easy" access to her. Any advise on what I should do with this?


At 10:20 AM , Blogger Cari Kaufman said…

I totally agree with you. As a woman who teaches self defense and the survivor of an attempted sexual assault, I get comments like those a lot. It's sometimes difficult to get people to see the difference between blaming the victim and becoming a hard target.

Girls should absolutely understand that the way they dress sends a message (right or wrong, it's true) and that they have the choice to decide what that message is. It doesn't negate the fact that there are bad people out there who will do bad things. It doesn't make it their fault if they have been a victim. It's simply a tool in the "Safety of the Princess" tool box.

Right on to you for raising that level of awareness!


At 10:48 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks, all, for being so agreeing! I know there are some who don't agree, though (hence the reason for this post, from another commenter), and I hope I've done a bit of a job to bridge the gap in our understanding.

Kim, I am at a loss as to what to tell you about your granddaughter. That is so heartbreaking what happened to you, and it definitely gives you more highly tuned antennae to see what is happening to her. It sounds like she's just at a very vulnerable point right now, and she could definitely end up very hurt.

The only thing I can say is to be there for her and to pray, and to try to influence her mom to get her into a good peer group--like a church kids' club or junior youth group. Get her in a safe social environment, so she knows kids outside of just school. And pay attention. And pray.


At 11:51 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Kim, you might also want to involve child protection services, as her mother is not fulfilling her responsibility to protect her daughter and is exposing her not only to substance abuse but also to a potential predator. You might qualify to be your daughter's guardian through a kin-care arrangement, or perhaps another good Christian family could take charge of her care. As a foster parent I know the child protection system is far from perfect, but a truly caring Christian home can be a real turning point for the better in a child's life.


At 11:53 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Oops, I meant you might be able to care for your GRANDdaughter... typo!

P.S. Sheila, great article. I'm passing it along to someone I know and care about!


At 12:39 PM , Blogger Rebecca Ingram Powell said…

Kim, a similar situation happened in our church community--a young gal with negligent mothering and the threat of her mom's live-in boyfriend. There is an urgency to this situation, and I want to add my voice to those who are encouraging you to get someone else involved. There are a myriad of ramifications that go hand-in-hand with what you have described, not the least of which is the fact that ten-year-olds can get pregnant, too.


At 6:02 PM , Blogger Cherish said…

Great article. I remember as an immodestly dressed 17-year-old being annoyed that every time I wore a super short dress while kissing my boyfriend, he tried to put his hands in undesired places. I wanted his attention, but only to have him say oh you look good. I just didn't get it.


At 6:12 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


I agree with those who said that you should contact child protection services, it's just that realistically I'm not sure they'd do anything. Your granddaughter would have to acknowledge that he had already touched her inappropriately, and if she's not willing to do that, then they wouldn't remove her.

We had a similar situation in my extended family with a single mother's live-in boyfriend, and even though we had legitimate fears, there was nothing we could do. Child protection services won't intervene just because someone has fears.

So I would recommend really working at keeping the lines of communication open as much as possible, so that she will tell you if anything happens, and so that the mom and boyfriend know that if something happens, they'll be ratted on. I wish there were an easier answer, but I don't think there is!


At 9:55 PM , Blogger MrsKassandra said…


Thanks for the interesting, thought-provoking article. I found it through Terry's blog and stopped by. I'm not a youth leader and don't deal much with teenagers, but this post reminded me of a friend. We're both 25, I've been married for almost 2 years and she's single..shes a pretty shallow believer with serious daddy issues. I didn't deal with this so much as I had a steady boyfriend ( believe you me, I had my OWN boatload of sins and issues though), but she has been absolutely boy crazy for years. It breaks my heart how she would dress SO inappropriately at work ( we work together in a professional hospital setting), and out in public. I've watched her ask super inappropriate questions of male coworkers, friends of ours, and random guys she'd meet.

I was embarrassed for her, and even more- I was hurting for her. It is obvious to anyone with a brain that she just wants love and attention, so so badly. I watched her date and/or hook up with guy after guy, leaving a bigger, more empty hole in her heart each time.

Granted, we are adults, and she can make her own choices. She met ( finally) a nice guy who is treating her very well, but I still wonder..if he leaves, then what? Back to the old ways? I'm trying to figure out a way to convey to her that she is beautiful and smart by herself( because she IS-very pretty, college educated, etc)

But back to your main point about modesty..of course it matters. My friend has started dressing more modestly since dating the cop ( in fact it was realllly bad, everyone knew her by the nickname 'boobs'- bc they were always hanging out), but I GUARANTEE she had no clue that she was causing people to lust, esp. married men.

Its a tricky subject, I'm just trying to find ways to gently deal with people I know, without causing them to run the other direction.


At 1:59 AM , Blogger Eszter said…

Thank you Sheila! May I translate and post this article with a link to your site? I have a blog for teenagers and youth, how to be a modest Christian.



At 1:59 AM , Blogger Eszter said…

My blog is in Hungarian, my e-mail address:


At 8:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I don't think this girl should have been dressed the way she was. But it seems like her real issue is her attitude and behavior. What would have happened if she had been dressed the same way but had not flirted and texted and generally tried to get boys' attention? She may still have gotten some bad attention but I think it would have been less. But it is hard to imagine a girl with a modest attitude dressing this way isn't it? I think the real problem is the heart which is seeking attention in inappropriate ways and places. But the outward appearance, that is her manner of dressing, is reflecting her inward state which is immodest. We can make rules for girls but the real problem is the modest or lack of modesty in their hearts. And you won't solve the dress problem till you deal with that.


At 7:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Well, gee, I wish I'd read your post a few years ago, maybe I could have saved myself some serious emotional and physical trauma. I mean, who knew it was so easy to avoid rape - just be modest! Duh!! I just have one question: where did I go wrong? I was walking home from the store one night - it was about 200 yards from the store to my house, down a well-lit, busy road. It was late, but I'd been out with some friends, it was my birthday after all. I was wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and a sweater, all underneath an ankle-length sheepskin coat, a hat, and a scarf (it was cold). I didn't talk to anyoen, flirt, or give anyone my cellphone number, and, somehow, I still got raped. Can you please tell me where I went wrong, so I can learn from my mistakes and not advertise myself to rapists in the future? Thanks a bunch.


At 3:15 AM , Anonymous Kristen said…

I still agree with the commenter.


At 9:55 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To the anonymous poster above: I am truly sorry that you went through this horrendous experience. I know how scarred that can leave you, and nobody should have to go through that. I can sense how much pain you are feeling.

However, I think your anger is a little misplaced. Nowhere in this article did I say that if you were dressed modestly you could prevent all rapes; in fact, I said the exact opposite. In the first post in the series, I even made mention of several specific rapes in the news that there was no way that anybody could prevent (and it sounds like yours was quite similar to those ones). I don't believe that we can stop all rape. Not at all. And I never claimed that we could.

So I think that perhaps you should be more angry at the men who would do such a thing, rather than at the women who are trying to reduce the number of rapes.

For instance, we agree that some rapes are pretty much unpreventable. There's nothing you could have done.

But I would think we also agree that not all rapes fall into that category, right? In some situations, the women have put themselves in danger, either by drinking heavily in a highly sexualized situation, or inviting a guy up to her apartment alone, or any number of other things. It doesn't mean that she deserved it; not at all. Only that sometimes we put ourselves in dangerous situations.

You have lived through the trauma of rape. Do you not want to help other women escape it, if indeed that's possible? I would think that you do, and that's just what I'm trying to do, too. Most rapes don't happen the way yours did; most are between people who know each other, so I believe that we have to be careful about who we hang out with, where we hang out with them, and what we do while we're there, which is why there is this focus on modesty, which reflects who you attract in the first place.

What is your solution to the problem, then? Just claim that there is absolutely nothing we can do, and women will have to live with it? That appears to be what you are saying by not offering another route. Perhaps you know something else that we should be doing; if so, I think we'd love to hear it!

But I, for one, am not willing to tell my daughters "there's nothing you can do". I want to arm them the best that I can. Unfortunately, you seem to be buying into this belief that by saying that there may be things we can do to partially protect ourselves that we are simultaneously blaming the victim. I addressed that in last week's post, but let me say it again: I think any rape is absolutely the guy's fault. But I also think women can sometimes be stupid. And I don't want my girls to be stupid, so I'm going to teach them to protect themselves. That won't stop all rapes (as it didn't in your case). But it may make them less likely. That's a goal I'd like to work towards.

What is your goal? I'd like to know, because perhaps we can find common ground.


At 11:47 AM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…


You are spot on and way more gracious than I'm likely to have the patience to be.

In the long run, your anonymous commenter will end up being more scarred by her bitterness and anger - and the way she allows that to affect how she relates to others and thinks about the world - than by the rape.


At 6:49 PM , Blogger Cortney said…

What bothers me is that I rarely read about these discussions from the "parents of a boy perspective". In other words, where are all the talks about how to talk to your SON about how "no means no" and about how "just because a girl is dressed a certain way, it doesn't mean you have the right to be disrespectful".

I can appreciate that you are clearing up that it's not the girls' "fault" if they are dressed immodestly, but this is a slippery slope and it is, in fact, very close to saying it IS their fault.

Just as parents should teach their DAUGHTERS to respect themselves, and be careful in certain situations, parents should teach their SONS how to respect women and how to respect their bodies. In the end, it doesn't matter what a woman wears if there is a boy or a man that wants to harm her sexually. There needs to be as much, if not MORE emphasis on teaching boys to grow up to be respectful men. Unfortunately, when boys grow up hearing about how "good girls dress modestly to show respect for their bodies" when they see a girl dressed immodestly the default is "oh, she must be a bad girl that doesn't respect herself, so I don't have to either!".

I would *love* it if more youth group leaders and educators would give more guidance to young men in this area, other than "don't have sex" and "date nice girls".


At 7:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


At 9:58 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


I understand what you're saying, and I would certainly love to see more youth pastors and parents stepping up to the plate!

However, I don't have any sons on this side of heaven. I'm the mom of two teenage girls, and so I'm writing from that perspective.

And also, when we're talking about safety, it really is primarily a women's issue (though not entirely a women's issue). It is usually women who are the victims of sexual assault, and it is women who often find themselves in very uncomfortable situations, even if they don't get to the assault stage.

If we're going to talk about how to protect the vulnerable, then, we have to talk to women.

I'd love it if more people would speak up and teach boys what it means to be a man--how they are protectors of women, and shouldn't be users. I am totally in agreement with that.

So I don't think that we're really that far off at all!


At 1:06 PM , Blogger PersonalFailure said…

Sheila, did you know that rape is far more common in countries where women are required to dress modestly, i.e., wear a burqa, etc., than in countries where women can dress how they want? My guess is no, you did not know that.

Women are raped because they are in the presence of a rapist. End of story. It might make you feel safer to believe that a long skirt and a turtleneck prevent rapes, but they do not. Otherwise, there would be no rapes in cultures where women are entirely covered.


At 1:06 PM , Blogger PersonalFailure said…

This comment has been removed by the author.


At 1:15 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Actually, PersonalFailure, if you read my post from the week before, I talk about how rape is more prevalent in those countries. I've traveled extensively in Africa and the Middle East. I've worked with Kenyan teenagers who have survived horrific sexual assault. I know firsthand what happens there. So please don't impugn me with things that I have not said.

Rape is far more prevalent in Africa and the Middle East than it is here because of two reasons: culture and protection of women. Women do not have the protection there that do here, so rape is easier. There are not as many repercussions. And culture sees women as inferior and as sex objects.

But just because it's more prevalent there does not mean that it doesn't occur here. And I'm not saying we have to wear turtlenecks! Good grief. I'm simply saying that if we don't want to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, let's not attract men who are only interested in one thing. Let's be a little smart. Is that really so radical?

Are you saying that it shouldn't matter what women wear at all? That if we all wear short skirts and shirts with cleavage hanging out everywhere that men wouldn't think of us as sex objects? Or that that's not why they would start talking to us?

I don't wear many turtlenecks. Neither do my daughters. We dress perfectly normally--we just don't dress like street walkers. But some of their friends do, and I don't understand why adult women don't want to talk to those girls and tell them what they're doing. Why don't we want to warn them of how men will think of them?


At 3:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I would be most scared for the girl in the bikini, not because of what she was wearing, but because of her actions. if she was dressed that way and wasn't trying to flirt or text and her body language didn't send off the message that she was interested in men, she would be in no more danger then the other girls. It had nothing to do with her clothes and everything to do with her attitude. The other two girls would have been in the same amount of danger if they had been behaving the way she was.

The way men tell which women are willing to go for a one night stand isn't the way they dress, it is the way they act. I used to go to clubs back when I was young and watched this over and over again. A girl who is wearing jeans and long sleeves but who is flirting with every guy in sight and acting provocative will attract a lot of guys. A girl who is wearing a halter top and short skirt but is hanging out with only her friends and ignoring all other guys, will not usually attract bad attention. It all comes down to attitude, not dress.

Now how a woman acts still doesn't justify rape or treating her bad. And the problem truly lies, not with her actions or clothes, but with the man who has not been taught to view woman as people to be respected. The only true way to stop rape and protect women is to teach boys and men to treat all people with respect not matter how they dress or act.


At 3:07 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


Great points! Perhaps it's better said this way: modesty is more a state of mind than a state of dress. Is that what it is? I think your state of mind will generally be reflected in your dress, but not always.

And we definitely SHOULD teach men how to treat women appropriately. But education will not change all men, which is why, as the mother of daughters, I'm still intent on teaching girls to be smart and safe!


At 3:38 PM , Anonymous Doomed Harlot said…

What if "reducing rape" comes at the price of reduced opportunity to live freely in the world?
Sure, I could significantly reduce my risk of rape by locking myself up in a nunnery, but wouldn't the cost of that choice be too much?

The problem with all the smart-and-safe tips women receive is that they imply there is only one "sensible" way for women to exist. This "sensible" way of existing often involves clutching one's cell phone and keys in terror every time one finds oneself outside after dark.

The woman who flirts or gets drunk at a bar or wears a sexy outfit is labeled a moron. Women's behavior is policed in a way that men's simply is not, all in the name of "safety." To me, this is an overly high price to pay for very little reward (if any) in terms of actual safety.

My mother -- who was at one time a drinking, dating, micro-mini-wearing lover of fun -- gave me very wise guidance. She made sure I understood the reality of rape. She also made sure that I understood my absolute right to say no to any sexual activity, and my absolute right to remove myself from any situatin that made me feel unsafe or uncomfortable. But she never once told me what to wear or not wear, how much to drink or not, how much or how little to flirt. You know why? Because there are no right or wrong answers. It is a matter of individual choice.

I tend to err on the side of safety myself, but I know that my choices may well be too restrictive for another woman's taste. This does not make that other woman stupid.


At 7:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

One thing that I think this post might have been missing is the fact that studies generally show that rape is about power rather than about sexual attraction. In interviews with rapists, the perpetrator usually is interested in dominance. It's not actually about the sex/sexual attraction. The rapist doesn't see the other person as a person, but rather as an object to be used, and the perpetrator enjoys the feeling of power that ensues.

I think women might be well-advised to invest in taking a self-defense class rather than in double-checking their wardrobes. It seems that viewing clothing as a protection against attack will only result in self-deprecation and serious psychological issues later if the unthinkable were to happen (Was my shirt too low?? If I hadn't worn this, I might not have been attacked!!).

If a man chooses to become violent, that is on him, not the woman. We can't have it both ways which is what I feel that this article is trying to do. Either the clothing starts something or it doesn't. If it does, then it suggests the woman could have prevented the rape by choosing a different outfit. It just seems like a logical fallacy to state that the rape isn't the woman's fault, but the clothing that might have "started" it is. It seems like that's saying that if only she had been wearing that nice, long dress she could have made him see that she was a person, too.

The fact is, there are violent, screwed-up-in-the-head individuals out there who will never see a woman as a valuable individual deserving respect no matter what she's wearing. A person who's going to rape someone else has serious, serious issues with relating to other human beings, and I don't think a certain type of skirt or neckline is going to impact that. If we're going to claim that putting on certain types of clothing is more likely to protect women from rapists, then we ought to say that putting on other types of clothing is more likely to invite rapists and, in turn, sexual violence. Which, to me, is the same thing as saying that a woman who puts on certain types of clothing invites rape.

P.S. If I'm misunderstanding the argument, feel free to correct me. These are just my thoughts on the issue as I understand it.


At 7:59 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

You said, "In some situations, the women have put themselves in danger, either by drinking heavily in a highly sexualized situation, or inviting a guy up to her apartment alone, or any number of other things."

No. The women did not put themselves in a situation inviting rape. The men who were invited into their apartments, invited on a date, etc, put them in those situations when they decided to rape them. Those situations do not have to be dangerous. They should not be dangerous. My bikini on a hot day does not open my body to assault. Just as someone with big muscles isn't inviting a fight just by walking down the street (a different type of assault).

Rape is about power. It isn't about cleavage, short shorts, or tight pants. If you want to prevent rape, stop shaming women for exploring their sexuality and start educating men.


At 8:54 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


I think it would be helpful to read this post in conjunction with my first one, where I addressed the power issue. It's here:

Again, though, I think we're confusing two different kinds of rape. There is the stranger rape, the kind that we are all warned of, and that is absolutely horrific. But most rapes, when they occur, tend to be in parties where alcohol is involved. That's really what I'm talking about, as you'll see from that post. And I think in those situations, it's less about power and more about lust.

Self-defence would also go a long way in helping to prevent these types of things, and I love self-defence courses for teens (or moms & daughters self-defence). That's definitely a good idea.


At 10:07 AM , Anonymous Mozen Greezin said…

Having been in such situations, I can safely say I'd be concerned for all of them. Rapists do not limit themselves to scantily clad women. Indeed, some rapists assault males or girls who are too young to have developed breasts. The problem is with the rapist, not with the person who is assaulted. The blog author's attitude just adds to the problems in our society. Shame on her.


At 10:50 AM , Blogger Sheila said…


I certainly agree that rapists do not limit themselves to these situations, and indeed I said in this post (and in the two that led up to it) exactly this thing. In fact, in the main post that I wrote about assault, I talked about all the things other than modesty that we women can do to protect ourselves.

Modesty I don't think is an issue of escaping sexual assault as much as it is escaping being in uncomfortable situations--of which sexual assault may be one. Again, I said this in this post. I think people are reacting to what they think I'm saying rather than what I actually did say.


At 3:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I respectfully disagree. ANY WOMAN should be able to walk down the street wearing whatever I want - or not- and not be assaulted. You know who is at fault in a rape? The rapist. Period. End of story. Even if the rape is of a prostitute.


At 3:52 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


Of course any woman SHOULD be able to do that! We all agree on that. Women SHOULD be free of assault of all kinds. We SHOULD be free of sexual harassment, of abuse, of rape, of ogling, of all of those things.

But just because something SHOULD happen doesn't mean that it will. And I'm not willing to tell my daughters that rape happens, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. Not when most rapes occur between people who already know each other.

I don't think there's much you can do about stranger rapes (as I wrote in the posts leading up to this one). But I think we can teach our daughters not to get involved with men who only want one thing. Is that really so bad?

I'm talking reality, not fantasy. We all long to live in a world where there are no wars, no attacks, no selfishness, greed, or evil. But we don't live in that world. And personally, I'd like to do what I can to protect those I love in the world we do live in.


At 2:38 PM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

If you want to prevent rape, stop shaming women for exploring their sexuality and start educating men.

And all I can say to that is, "WOW!"

I'm sure quite a few men who commit date rape on women who are exercising their empowerment probably think they're just exploring their sexuality.

Pardon me for the sarcasm Sheila. It just bothers me when people tend to be intentionally obtuse.

How can it possibly be wring to tell women and girls to make wise choices and protect themselves?



At 3:07 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


I love you. That is all.


At 9:24 AM , Anonymous Nurse Kristy said…

As a mom of two (now teen) boys, and as a wife, I greatly appreciate it when young women dress modestly. I also believe that most young women do not realize the effect their clothing choices may have on the opposite sex. Sure - they like it when they get attention from young men... but do they necessarily like that same sort of attention from "old" men?

Banking on the theory that a young woman would *not* love the idea of an "old guy" (understand here, they were only 40-60, so certainly not "almost dead") checking out her cleavage, I spoke up one day at the local farmstand. Each time this young gal leaned over to reach into the till to make change, she gave an impressive display to the customers...and standing in line, I was pretty sure she was unaware of it, and of the fact that *as one* the men in line averted their eyes each time she leaned down.

When I got to the head of the line, I drew her aside and told her how pretty her shirt was (because it was!) and that as a mom, I figured she'd want to know about what her shirt *did* when she leaned over, because she didn't seem to be the sort of girl that was looking for that kind of male attention. She was visibly shocked to hear about the men turning away, and promptly grabbed a sweatshirt to throw on. I can only hope she lived nearby, so that she didn't wear that sweatshirt all day.

Maybe - just maybe - she thought to check out her reflection in the mirror while mimicking 'making change' the next day....I know that ensuring your clothes move with you/the way you want them to is something I'll be teaching my girls about when they get older. I don't think most young gals, even the ones who *are* looking for some attention from guys their age, really want that same sort of attention from men old enough to be their fathers (or grandfathers!).


At 11:29 AM , Blogger Nancy said…

Modesty does matter. Obviously this subject can be debated over and over (and has been), but the bottom line is that God requires women to be modest. I came across this link Also, Nancy Leigh DeMoss has some excellent things to say about modesty based on Scripture.


At 9:08 PM , Anonymous Kelly Oribine said…

Sheila, i feel that maybe the point of my comment was misunderstood. As i said in my original comment, i do believe that modesty is important (and it's an honour for those who delight in pleasing God!) I just made the point that modesty has little to do with Rape... i can't find any statistical evidence that would suggest that rape is more common among the scantily clad.
My real concern was and is that you've claimed (in another article) that Rape is a consequence of poor choices on the part of the victim. Rape is never a CONSEQUENCE!
When i was thirteen i went to a concert and met an older boy who seemed to like me. We went for a walk and as we neared a wooded area i thought i could see where this was going, so i told him that i was a virgin and didn't want to have sex. He acted a little bit offended that i would assume he was looking for sex and told me that he was a christian and was saving himself for marriage. I believed him. We were barely off the lit road before he threw me to the ground and raped me.
SO naturally I'm going to tell my daughters that being alone with boys (especially boys you hardly know) is risky. Of course i'm going to warn them and try to keep them safe. Nobody in their right mind would object to that. But i will not tell them that if they DO make risky choices and happen to get raped that the rape is a consequence of their actions! That would be a heartless and ridiculous thing to say, yet you said it on the pages of the newspaper!

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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