Research on the Relationship between Rape and Dressing

Opening Statement

The issue of rape and dressing continues to generate interest. Although, I wrote this article in 2014 and I have observed that it has generated a lot of traffic over the years. Five years down the line, I have seen the need to update this article.  I have included more recent research and removed some of the content for conciseness.


In case you missed it, my last article on this blog was on rape, is the woman ever to blame? You can read the article here . I have received a lot of feedback on that piece some of which I must confess, I find downright hilarious. But an Igbo proverb says “it is not only a cadaver that can have its neck strengthened”. I have therefore decided to do a mini content analysis on research that has been carried out on the relationship between rape and a woman’s dressing. This, I have gathered, is an issue so knotty that someone posited that any article that puts rape and dressing in the same sentence should be left in the drafts.

This is going to be a long read so buckle up and promise not to puke (I joke).

Types of Rape

Before I share my findings on this issue, let me clarify two other points. There is a school of thought that by categorizing rapists, I am in some way saying that one group can be justified. According to this group, all rapists and rapists and should not be categorized. Let me say at this point that categorizing rapists did not start with me. In fact, this research by identifies four types of rape and goes ahead to show that society views each type of rape from different lenses. In this work, Social Psychologist, Dr Gloria Cowan referenced four types of rape “stranger, acquaintance, date, and partner rape”.

Another research work says: The four motivations for rape are sexual gratification, anger rape, power rape, and sadistic rape. Sexual gratification is generally believed to be the motivation behind acquaintance and date rape. Anger rape is generally not premeditated, but it is violent and spurred by anger and resentment toward women. Power rape is spurred by the need to control and dominate. Sadistic rape is usually premeditated and ritualized, frequently subjecting victims to degradation, mutilation, torture, or murder. (Rathus, S.A., Nevid, J.S., and Fichner-Rathus, L. (2005). Human sexuality in a world of diversity.(6th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon )

Would it be true to say that by categorizing rape, sociologists are supporting any type of rape?

A Question of Grammar

The second issue is more of a grammatical clarification. Does saying that a woman can be raped because of what she is wearing or her demeanor mean that she should be raped? The word “can” is used to denote possibility while “should” can denote desirability and expect-ability among other uses. I shall answer both questions again for clarity: Can a woman be raped based on her dressing and demeanor? In other words: Is there a possibility that a woman’s dressing or demeanor could lead to her being raped? The answer to this question is yes. The “controversial” Victim Precipitation Theory explained here makes it clear that it is possible to assign a level of social responsibility to the victim of a crime without assigning the victim legal responsibility. Of course, Feminist Scholars generally refer to this as “victim blaming”. But then again I ask: Should a woman be raped because of her dressing and demeanor? In other words: Is it desirable that a woman be raped because of her dressing and demeanor? The answer to this question is NO. There is no justification for rape. No matter what a woman wears, does or does not do when she says NO it means NO, not maybe, not try harder. It means STOP. The second question put the responsibility of raping on the rapist. The first puts the responsibility of knowledge on every woman.

Rape or Sexual Harassment

There is a need to make a distinction between rape and sexual harassment. Although these two terms are usually used together, when discussing rape and dressing, it is important to make this distinction. he reason for this is that as noted earlier, just as there is a difference in perception when discussing the different types of rape, (clearly a lot of people are uncomfortable about these distinctions and would rather it did not exist) there is also a distinction between the causes of rape as opposed to the causes of sexual harassment. The latter has in the last few years become broadly defined to include “micro-aggression”. Some regard flirtations from a man in whom they have no interests as sexual harassment.

What Research Says About Rape and Dressing

But really, can what a woman wear lead to rape or is this just a myth? Let me share the conclusions of some research I found. I will be including links so that if you choose you may read the entire research. Let me start by pointing out that most of the research I found can be categorized (I’m sorry but the word is here again) in two: rape by strangers, which in my article I referred to as sociopathic rape and date rape which I called opportunistic rape. This is what Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Andrea Parrot’s contributes to this issue from her book, “Coping with Date Rape and Acquaintance Rape” : Unlike stranger rape, most acquaintance rape is not premeditated for the purpose of doing violence to a woman and degrading her…Acquaintance rape is premeditated or planned sex and ends as aggression only if the victim does not comply with the rapist’s demands. Her views are supported by this study  shows that “the majority of the sexual attacks (55-61%) committed by these men were premeditated across their first, middle, and last rapes, while fewer rapists reported their crimes as being impulsive (15-22%) or opportunistic (22-24%).”

Case Studies for Rape and Dressing

Theresa Meiner’s Research on Workplace Harassment

This study by Theresa Meiner, focuses on the topic: Sexy Dressing Revisited: Does Target Dress Play a Part in Sexual Harassment Cases?  She focuses on workplace harassment and concludes that when cases go to court defendants do not use dressing to try to “weasel out of claims”. Instead, the plaintiffs “frequently raised comments about their dress as part of their sexual harassment allegations”. Ms Meiner’s findings are not unexpected. In legal settings, it would be counter-intuitive for the defendants lawyer to argue that his client’s actions were a result of how a woman dressed to the workplace. There generally are expectations of formality at the workplace. Note though that plaintiffs raised the issue of their clients dressing in order to show that they were not welcoming of harassment. Looked at on its own merit, this finding does indeed draw a link between sexual harassment and dressing. Meiner’s research shows that dressing is like the elephant in the room. Defendants don’t want to use it, Plaintiffs don’t mind using it. But, the elephant is in the room and refuses to go away. Also note that Meiner’s research does not say Defendants never used dressing as a plea, she says it was “rare”. Defendants interested in winning a case for their clients would raise the argument if they had to but only IF – another proof that there is a relationship between sexual harassment and dressing.  Meiner states,”It is clear, however, that comments about dress directed at plaintiffs are a component of sexual harassment allegations. Comments about dress are used to undermine working women’s authority…”

 NOI POLL (2013)

In January 2013, NOI polls published the following findings: Furthermore, in view of the debate that often arises about the cause(s) of rape in the society respondents were asked the following: What do you think is the prevalent cause of rape in the society? From the result, the majority of respondents (34%) were of the opinion that most prevalent cause of rape in the society is “Indecent dressing”; followed by 18% of respondents that cited “Unemployment”. Also, “Lack of moral values” and the “Inability to control sexual urge” were each cited by 9% of the respondents as the prevalent cause of rape. Other reasons mentioned by respondents include “Faulty upbringing” (7%), “Ungodliness”, “Illiteracy about women rights” and “Bad Company” (all with 5%). What should the finding that the majority of respondents (34%) were of the opinion that most prevalent cause of rape in the society is “Indecent dressing” mean to advocates? Amnesty International’s Kate Allen said: “The poll shows a shocking proportion of the public blame women for being raped. The Government must launch a new drive to counteract this sexist culture.” Ms. Allen added: “The poll highlights the public ignorance of the problem as well as the dreadfully low conviction rates. Joanna Perry, policy manager at Victim Support, said: “It is alarming to read that so many people seem to believe that a woman is responsible for inviting a rape or sexual assault because of what she was wearing, what she drank or how she behaved.

UK Study (2018)

A more recent study conducted in the UK provides similar finding. ’55 per cent of men believed that “the more revealing the clothes a woman wears, the more likely it is that she will be harassed or assaulted”.’ Interestingly, 41% of women held the same view which is often described as a “myth”. It is important to clarify that the myth which ought to be dispelled is that a woman deserves to be raped because of what she is wearing. As noted earlier, nothing a woman wears or does not wear should be interpreted to mean that she ought to be raped. However, we must also admit that when it comes to rape, we are not dealing with people who are acting rationally. No rational male would countenance rape under any guise. Speaking on this, Dr Hannah Bows, of the Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse at Durham University, is quoted as expressing her frustrations about how little progress has been made on dispelling rape myths. She said, “It is very depressing people think this despite awareness-raising campaigns from rape crisis centres and the police trying to dispel myths around rape.”

Lennon Et Al (2017)

Sharon Lennon and a group of other scholars did a content analysis of various research that has examined a link between sex and dressing.  The studies they analysed was carried out over a 50 year period ending in 2015 and led to the propagating of various theories including the Prospect Theory and Attribution Theory and Objectification Theory. A holistic review of these research works shows that mankind has hardly evolved in the way they view dressing as a signal of intent or in the use of dress as signal of intent.  Their findings conclude: it is clear that dress is used to infer a range of information about sex. They added: researchers have demonstrated that revealing dress evokes objectification of the woman so dressed.  Robust correlational, as well as experimental, evidence has been found  between objectification and subsequent dehumanization “in explicit reports of male sexual aggression attitudes and interests.”

@steenfox’ Twitter Poll (2014)

Nigerian Twitter user @Cherox  shared this buzzfeed piece in which I was copied . The original Tweeter @steenfox  had asked her followers to tweet and share what they were wearing when they were sexually assaulted. She got an overwhelming response. The responses suggest that “provocative dressing” did not play a role in their being targeted.  However, a majority of the women who responded were victims of assault from an acquaintance or were molested as minors. These instances hardly provide a basis for drawing the conclusion that dressing does not play a role in sexual harassment. It is impossible to tell if the acts were spontaneous or premeditated.  What conclusion can be drawn from this poll however is that a woman is more likely to be assaulted by someone she knows.

Slut Walks

The SlutWalk protest marches began on April 3, 2011, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with subsequent rallies occurring globally. Participants protest against explaining or excusing rape by referring to any aspect of a woman’s appearance and call for an end to rape culture.  Slutwalks are organized (where some of the women dress like sluts) to show it is wrong to rape a woman because of how she dresses. These walks in themselves go to show that there is a relationship between sexual harassment and dressing. Telling men not to rape a woman because of how she dresses is an admittance that some men could be moved to rape women because of how they dress. Do you still remember the difference between ‘can’ and “should’? (Sorry, just checking)

Profiling a Rapist

It has been noted that rapists are “extremely heterogeneous”.  The different types of rape leads to different ways of profiling a rapist. One thing is clear, it could be anyone. Also, the victim could be anyone. But, some factors lead to a higher propensity of a person either getting raped or committing rape.  The Arizona State University Center for Problem-Oriented Policing has this to say about stranger rape: Offenders may pick a victim at random or because she has certain characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, hair color, size, dress style) that symbolically represent something that has angered him. Women who are alone and appear to be distracted or otherwise unaware of their surroundings may also be targets. You may also like to note some of the information presented in this piece on profiling a rapist  I share excerpts: • Cross-cultural studies of rape identify the following factors as contributors to sexual violence: sex-role socialization, rape myths, lack of sanctions for abuse, male peer group support, pornography, adversarial sexual beliefs, lack of empathy, and all-male membership groups such as fraternities and sports teams. • Alcohol abuse has been identified as a strong correlate of college rape.

Should we talk about Rape and Dressing?

What then is wrong with giving women realistic preventive advice that includes the link between rape and dressing? Many people feel that giving women guidelines about things that can be done to stay safe actually shames them. However, in the United States Colleges, sexual assault prevention workshops are conducted.  Research has shown that the type of instruction provided during these workshops can be counterproductive and have a boomerang effect. Rapists are not deterred by messages such as, “The only way to prevent rape is for men to stop raping”. In fact, a study that looked into the effectiveness of these campaigns concluded that it could be doing more harm than good in “high risk males”. It is also important to note that provocative dressing is a relative term. What can be termed provocative in one culture can be seen as modest in another.  So women need to be Aware of Non-verbal Cues. Know that if you dress sexy and flirt, some men may think you want to have sex. This doesn’t mean your dress or actions are wrong but know that they may create misunderstanding. This report on the Efficacy of a Sexual Assault Resistance Program for University Women shows that offering information and teaching and practicing skills “with the goal of being able to assess risk from acquaintances, overcome emotional barriers in acknowledging danger, and engage in effective verbal and physical self-defense” reduced the risk of rape among college women in the study in both attempted rape and completed rape.


Maybe the feminists are right. Talking to any woman about rape and dressing and non-verbal cues may lead to victim’s blaming. But, you are not a victim until you actually become a victim. I may be wrong, but will it not amount to perpetrating the victim-hood mentality if we hold back information from women just because that could ‘victimize’ victims? The researches that say most rape has nothing to do with dressing is right, this is because most rape is acquaintance rape. The perpetrators use rape as a tool not as an end. For them it is a tool of oppression. It is all about power over the victim. But what about Stranger Rape and other instances that may have to do with dressing. A a US study by the University of Utah  (now deleted) said about 4.4% of rape could be attributed to “provocative behaviour”. No other study has added a statistic because it is simply impossible to provide a figure. First, it would require analysing data by type of rape and then asking perpetrators why they did it. When you factor in the fact that less than 20% of rape accusations leads to convictions then you will find that as much as 60% of rape/sexual assault is in the realm of conjecture: perpetrators deny it happened, victims insist it did.

Final Word

I remain unconvinced that talking to young ladies about how to prevent rape/sexual harassment by addressing rape and dressing does more harm than good. The human brain continues to see dress as a signal of sexual interest or disinterest. We have that 34% of Nigerians out there who think that the way a woman dresses is a kind of free pass to rape her.  I will use every strategy available to prevent rape including talking to ladies about sending out the wrong signals in anyway. I will preach preventive measures but I will NEVER blame the victim if rape occurs. I will educate everyone around me that rape is wrong whether it is committed by a stranger or acquaintance. I will encourage anyone who is a victim or has witnessed a rape to report it. I will contribute to talks to ensure that the right legislation is in place to help actual victims get justice. Legislation plays a key role in ensuring that when a rape occurs, no one will be allowed to use the way the victim dresses to deny them justice. THE FACT REMAINS THAT WHETHER A PERSON TAKES STEPS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES OR NOT RAPE IS NEVER THE WOMAN’S FAULT.


You may find this contribution in this research titled “Prosecuting and Defending Rape: Perspectives From the Bar” interesting. It contains perspectives from Barristers who have actually handled rape cases. The full research can be found here  This article discusses a qualitative study which involved in-depth interviews with a sample of ten highly experienced barristers. “Complainants were viewed by some barristers in an uncomplimentary and negative light. It was felt, for example, that juries were very affected by the appearance of witnesses.”  BAR3 said: I think it’s just common sense that if a woman looks like a scrubber she’s going to get less sympathy from a jury than someone who looks respectable. BAR2 said: It would be useful if they could sit down without showing their knickers. BAR 6 said that jurieswere not very good (at convicting) when somebody can be depicted as a slut‘. p.s I am fully aware that my views as expressed in the last article will be seen as controversial. But, they represent my convictions. I have noted the deliberate distortions of my words and I have chosen to ignore them. My personal stand remains: Rape is wrong and nothing a woman does should give anyone a right to rape her. If she says NO it means NO. Whether she said no at the beginning or just when the man is about to penetrate. Even if she is a prostitute and you have paid if she says n, do not FORCE her. The worst a man can do is ask for a refund. p.p.s Comments are welcome. I shall be polite to even rude comments. Promise.