If you wear a skirt and you are raped, it is your fault.
That is the message a Belgian University, the Brussels Institute of Higher Education, has told its students, whether female or male.
As The Sun says, student fraternities in Belgium have a “long tradition” of various initiation rituals, some of which involve male students dressing up in drag. In October, a student dressed as a woman was going to an initiation event when a group of youths assaulted him. He was taken to a deserted parking lot, robbed of his mobile phone and gang raped. A 15-year-old and a 17-year-old are reportedly in custody.
Another male student was also raped in a similar incident.
The university has now issued a ban on students wearing drag with the warning that “certain groups perceive wearing drag as being provocative.” That is, the Brussels Institute of Higher Education is in effect casting the blame on the students who survived sexual assaults.
This warning was issued by a “student counselor after consultation with the student union, and not from the university’s directors,” the Global Post notes. But even if the university has not itself issued an outright ban on students dressing in drag, it is still sending the message to students that, if you dress a certain way, you are “asking for it.” Says Bruno De Lille, the regional minister for equal opportunities:
“I feel that HUB [the Brussels Institute of Higher Education] is sending out completely the wrong signal. By reacting in this way they are at least implying that the rape was the victim’s fault.
“And what about transgender men and women then? Should they also adapt?
“As a society we should make it clear to the victims that they have our support and say to the perpetrators that their behaviour is unacceptable and that they will be severely punished.”
Earlier this year, a Virginia school district sought to ban cross-dressing on the grounds that doing so would lessen bullying and safeguard against “safety risks, disruptions and distractions.” But as the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia informed the school district, such a dress code was “unlawful and unfair to students.” By banning “nonconforming behavior,” the school district was not (whatever it claimed) addressing bullying or harassment, but (like the Belgian university) squarely, if indirectly, placing the blame on the victims.
It was four years ago that 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot in the back of his head during a computer science class by another student, Brandon McInerney. King occasionally wore jewelry, high-heeled boots and makeup to school. McInerney’s lawyers singled out “the school’s permissive attitude” in allowing King to cross-dress as an expression of his identity as specifically “contribut[ing] to the escalating tensions between the pair that would eventually lead to King’s death,” thereby seeking to pin the blame for King’s death on himself. It was an argument that — like the Belgian university’s ban — overlooked the reality of the perpetrator’s own troubles.
Alex Hern states the matter succinctly in the New Statesman: “Rapists have no right to dictate how you dress. If you are raped, it is the fault of: 1) The person who raped you.”
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