The Global Press Institue reports that the University of Buea in Cameroon has decided to enforce a stricter dress code in order to prevent sexual harassment on campus. Rather than teach students how to not rape, they are instead asking female students to not get raped by wearing a knee length skirt.
University of Buea’s guidance counsellor Theresia Ebot explains the link between one’s dress and one’s susceptibility to sexual harassment:
“When you dress scantily, you call for attention from the opposite sex,” Ebot says. “This attention is tilted towards sex, which is a great cause of rape and sexual harassment these days.”
According to the article, while some students support the dress code, some female students feel the enforcement of the dress code has left them feeling embarrassed and stripped of their rights. A few say they have been asked to leave campus due to attire police perceive as indecent, as though they were attending a high school, not a university.
Vida Mosima, 23, a student studying English at the University of Buea, says she was also embarrassed when campus police denied her entrance to the campus on her first day of class because of her clothing. She says she was wearing a strapless top and a short skirt that was above her knee, which they said was too sexy.
“I have never been so embarrassed and shocked in my whole life,” she says. “I did not expect to be driven out of the university campus on grounds that I was not well-dressed. That was stupid.”
As adults, all students should be expected to treat one another in a mature and respectful manner regardless of appearance. The administrators such as Ebot instead perpetuate a sadly very common misconception that anyone can invite sexual harassment or rape through dress. As the article mentions, this attitude often leaves survivors afraid to come forward with charges for fear they will be blamed.
Although there have been reports of rape on campus, none has been formally linked to indecent dressing. Still, authorities say victims of rape who are indecently dressed may be less likely to report the incident for fear of being blamed.
But Valentine Nji, 39, a legal practitioner based in Buea, says clothing has nothing to do with rape or sexual harassment.
“The concept of lecturers sleeping with students and rape will exist irrespective of how students dress,” he says. “After all, there are registered cases of young babies who are raped, and this was not as a result of indecent dressing of these babies.”
The victim-blaming at play in asking females to alter their dress in order to avoid rape is not particular to any one culture or country, but a very broad myth concerning sexual assault. The University’s administrators present a similar attitude to that of the Toronto police officer who inspired the SlutWalk movement. Because this myth is so pervasive it is survivors and victims who are often given the burden of preventing further rape, rather than the perpetrators and culture which produces them. Asking women to “cover up” is much easier than instituting education on the causes of sexual assault, but does little to actually address the real problem.
Dress Code Aims to Prevent Sexual Violence at Cameroon University [Global Press Institute]