If it wasn’t right there in black and white, we wouldn’t have believed it. But there it was, on a Web page offering “Tips for Preventing Child Abductions” — advice specifically targeted to girls.
It came from the Anne Arundel County Police Department Crime Prevention Unit in Maryland, amidst other, mostly sound advice. Do background checks on babysitters; warn children to not “help” adults who ask them to find a lost puppy; don’t display children’s names on their shirts and other belongings. It’s when we got to the section specifically written for girls that we had a problem. A big problem. It stated:
- Don’t wear provocative or sexy clothing, as this attracts older men.
- Don’t flirt with groups of boys or strangers.
What. The. Hell?
Were they seriously telling girls that the way they dress could get them kidnapped? That flirting may put their lives at risk? Yes, there was shaming and blaming victims all in one swoop. Fortunately, after a phone call from SheKnows, the “tips” were promptly removed, which is fantastic, and we applaud them for doing so, but unfortunately this kind of thinking has not been removed from our society.
From dress codes that tell girls their outfit choices are too tempting for male students to handle to arguments that a victim of rape was “asking for it” because of the way she was dressed, blaming women or asking them to dress or act in a way that doesn’t tempt men is one of the oldest and most infuriating approaches to the issues there is. And it has to stop.
First, there’s the problem of defining what “flirting” and “sexy” are. Is a smile going to get a girl kidnapped? Or maybe it’s showing her knees that will lead to her demise? Is the sight of her ankles going to cause some maniac to snatch her off the street? Or maybe it will be her elbows? For God’s sake, let’s just have us all wear muumuus and keep our eyes down and mouths shut when we see a group of males. That should stop all those kidnappings, right?
Wrong. So very wrong. The message these “tips” send girls is that they are responsible for someone else’s criminal actions, when no one is responsible for those actions but the criminal. Period.
Rather than making our girls question themselves, let’s teach them to be strong and assertive and to fight back, not to fret over their outfits. Let’s teach them to be confident and proud of their bodies and their abilities, not to hide them because they’re too tempting and could cause someone to commit a crime. Let’s teach our girls that they have power and to do everything in their power to protect themselves, but that if they are victims, it’s not their fault.