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Ellie Williams Headshot

What Not To Wear

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Recently, New York police officers in Park Slope, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, have been calling out women wearing short skirts and shorts, warning the women that they are an easy target for sexual predators. So when did it become police business to decide the dress code of New York City women? When did victim-blaming become commonplace in America?

Growing up in a liberal, upper middle class area instilled some unwavering beliefs in me. My parents strongly advocated personal expression throughout my childhood, as long as doing so didn't negatively impact those around me. This idea of self-expression was one of the most repeated mantras in my household next to the "Golden Rule." Yet as I entered high school, I came to the harsh and cruel realization that despite living in a diverse and affluent community, I would still experience a great deal of disrespect in the form of sexual harassment. So too would so many women around me.

Walking home from practice one night in the spring of my freshman year, I was passed by a cab driver who, making kissing sounds, shouted, "Hey baby, wanna go for a ride?" Ignoring his catcalls, I continued on my way. It was just after 6 p.m. on a residential street and I was wearing a t-shirt and athletic shorts, carrying both a backpack as well as a duffle bag. I was not under the influence, wearing "easy access clothing" or acting promiscuous. I was simply walking home. Yet even if I had done any or all of those things, I would still not be asking for a lewd man or woman to publically or privately harass me.

Despite the seeming inevitability of sexual harassment for women in our society, I do not believe in victim blaming. Victim blaming, or the act of finding the victim at fault in a sexual assault case, is an atrocious occurrence in our society. A woman wearing a miniskirt and high heels when out with friends is in no way inviting the horrific attack of rape. I believe that you have a right to personal expression and that doing so does not override your right to safety and does not invite police officers to dismiss such a violation as something you were "asking for."

While my particular incident in May did not escalate, what if it had? Would our society tell my family that it was my fault for walking home at dusk in shorts? Would I be blamed for being attacked, regardless of the fact that I was a victim who had been disgustingly violated? As a woman in America, I do not believe in victim-blaming; I believe that everyone -- no matter their age, gender, race or sexual orientation -- has the right of personal expression and personal safety, and that these rights do not conflict. I believe that the people in power should be protecting my rights and creating a safer environment for everyone, not advising me on my wardrobe.