A case of rape on a University Campus is in news, because defence used the student’s dress choice to assassinate her credibility. A suspended Yale student, was found not guilty of sexually assaulting a fellow student on Halloween night in 2015. While the details are not enough to reflect on whether justice prevails or not, it is the line of questioning posed to the survivor by the defence which is disturbing. The defence, yet again, dug up survivor’s Halloween costume – a black cat outfit and inquired her why she had not chosen a more unassuming one, like “Cinderella in a long flowing gown”.

The defence repeatedly questioned her on how drunk she was on the night of the assault. They also produced text messages exchanged between the accused and survivor to prove that she had been flirting with him.

All victims’ worst fears in coming forward

Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, called the defence’s line of questioning “all victims’ worst fears in coming forward.”

“It is very intentionally working to trigger victim-blaming and stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual assault,” she said. “You must be interested in sexual behaviour just based on how you’re dressed and drinking”.

It is debatable whether this is a case of sexual assault, misread consent, or a reaction to consensual sex after effects of alcohol wore off. But the defence’s line of questioning is a sheer attempt to discredit the survivor. They may as well staple it to her head that “she asked for it”.

I can understand that sometimes the aftershock of spontaneous sexual encounter under influence leads many people to question how consensual the encounter was. It is the survivor’s right to seek legal action if she even has a smidgen of doubt that she was raped. Also, every defendant has a right to prove that the encounter was consensual. But why does the defendant’s acquittal come at the cost of a woman’s dignity?

Character assassination is not defence, it is a crime in itself.

Why does drinking alcohol, wearing short clothes, leaning on someone for support after puking several times due to hangover, come across as cheap, promiscuous and suggestive? It makes me realise that in every corner of world, lawyers don’t think twice before blaming a woman for an assault.

A woman may flirt and make sexual advances at someone, but decide against the encounter in last millisecond. This however does not justify her assault. She has a right to say “no” or “stop” whenever or wherever she wants. It has nothing to do with what she wears, drinks, says or even does for a living.

The threat of character assassination keeps so many women from coming ahead with allegations. This case is another bad example, which will make women think twice before seeking legal actions against sexual crimes. There are so many ways defence could have countered the female student’s accusations. It should not have been a traumatic and shameful experience for her. But the defence chose this very course of action. Courts should outright dismiss such line of questioning, and reprimand lawyers who try to shame women for their choice of clothing. That is the only way to stop shaming from becoming a deterrent to justice in many cases.

Also Read : Dress Up Or Down, The Choice Is Yours

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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