Warning: This post may be a trigger for those who have experienced abuse.
by CATHERINE MANNING
As a kid, I owned several pairs of shorts. I loved wearing them. They were cool in summer and I could jump on my trampoline, ride my bike, and climb trees as freely as I wished.
I’m pretty sure my (rather conservative) mother who bought them for me didn’t think anyone would label me ‘trampy’ and, back then, the thought that I could be “trampy” never crossed my mind.
When I was ten, all that changed. I was invited alone by my friend’s father into his centerfold-clad shed. He turned to me and said, “You look sexy in those shorts” right before he molested me.
Was this his rationale? Did I look like a ten-year-old tramp? Could wearing short shorts give an impression that I was sexually precocious or available; could they mean that I should have expected advances? After all, my shorts were short. My long, tanned legs were exposed. And I did go in there with him.
I thought for so many years that my shorts and I were to blame. I also held my mother, the stores that sold shorts for girls and a sex-focused culture responsible for my abuse.
As an activist campaigning for the protection of children from exposure to pornographic material, I worked alongside many who shared this view that the fact of girls dressing like women was asking for trouble. Yet as I talked the talk, I began to dig deeper and understand what I was actually saying.
Talking about “trampy” kids’ clothing might sound like empowered activism. But, in the end, it’s really not much different from saying, “Look what she was wearing – how could one resist?” I had begun to blame the victim. I had begun to blame myself. “You look sexy in those shorts.”
The message we now hear so often is fairly clear: if you want to protect your child from predators, cover them up. But as all evidence suggests, abusers don’t target short shorts. They target vulnerability. It wasn’t my beloved, tree-climbing shorts that made me vulnerable.
What clothing a child wears has nothing to do with ‘selection’ by abusers. Abusers target children who look like children. I was preyed upon for reasons other than my shorts. The man in the shed used the same misguided rationale so many activists do. Those shorts. They are making you sexy.