In response to a string of at least 10 unsolved sexual assaults in Brooklyn, New York police are reportedly stopping women on the street who are wearing clothing they say is revealing and advising them to cover up if they don’t want to be raped. The Wall Street Journal reports on the disturbing message police officers are allegedly spreading:
Lauren, a South Slope resident, was walking home three blocks from the gym on Monday when she was stopped. The 25-year-old, who did not want her last name to be used, was wearing shorts and a T-shirt when she claims a police officer asked if she would stop and talk to him. He also stopped two other women wearing dresses. [...]
“He pointed at my outfit and said, ‘Don’t you think your shorts are a little short?‘” she recalled. “He pointed at their dresses and said they were showing a lot of skin.”
He said that such clothing could make the suspect think he had “easy access,” said Lauren. She said the officer explained that “you’re exactly the kind of girl this guy is targeting.”
The New York City Police Department did not deny that officers were stopping women to talk to them about their clothing, but reasoned, “They are simply pointing out that as part of the pattern involving one or more men that the assailant(s) have targeted women wearing skirts.” But however well-intentioned, focusing on women’s choices — rather than the attackers’ — is just another way of blaming potential victims. It’s wrong to suggest that women are responsible for the actions of the attacker, or can somehow control whether they are targeted or raped.
Jessica Silk, the founder of a community group formed in the wake of the attacks, Safe Slope, criticizes the reported tactic as “completely inappropriate.” She says that instead of discouraging women from wearing certain types of clothing, police should be sending the message “Here are ways you can protect yourself.”
Many women in the neighborhood, who are already frightened and taking steps to protect themselves, are protesting that their clothing choices shouldn’t even be part of the discussion. Lauren, one of the women who was stopped, asks, “Where do you draw the line? I can’t wear shorts?” She says she thanked the officer but said she would prefer that he focus on catching the perpetrators, rather than scrutinizing women’s appearance.