This Artist Is Challenging Victim Blame Culture With Her 'Anti-Rape Cloak'
The Debrief: She hopes her work will get people to rethink the way they talk about rape and abuse
We live in a society where rape is, up to a point, normalised and still hugely underreported. Survivors of rape are frequently blamed for their own assaults, and quizzed about their behaviour: what they were wearing, what they’d been taking, how much they’d been drinking.
The Pretenders singer, Chrissie Hynde, sparked outrage earlier this year when she said that she blames herself for being sexually assaulted when she was 21. Self-blame is an all too common response to a traumatic attack.
However, it is society’s implicit blaming of victims that is damaging, the old adage ‘no smoke without fire’ is too often muttered or implied when rape cases are discussed or reported. Instead four other words should be repeated over and over again: it’s never your fault.
One artist is fighting back against a particular aspect of victim blaming. Sarah Maple from London is challenging the ridiculous idea that what a woman wears could somehow implicate her in her own rape with her satirical ‘Anti-Rape Cloak’.
Sarah’s creation is part of a new art exhibition, the Art of Nuisance, which opened last week.
‘I was reading Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism’, she says, ‘and at the time I was feeling really pissed off about victim blaming. How women are often made to feel ashamed or they often blame themselves for sexual assault… she shouldn’t have been there at the time, she shouldn’t have been wearing that at the time… we always default to what the women could have done to prevent rape.’
This was the idea behind her cloak. She says it’s an ‘ironic look’ at victim blaming which is meant to highlight how ridiculous it is. ‘Wearing this cloak is as ridiculous as blaming women for their own rape, I want people to question the idea that somehow the woman is to blame.’
Rather than asking women to cover up, Sarah thinks we should be educating people more about consent. We don’t ‘educate boys about consent enough’, she says, ‘perhaps it’s to do with the porn industry. Obviously in porn a lot of it is about abuse, when a woman says no in porn she doesn’t really mean no, and maybe that has shaped how boys look at sex.’
Maple, who is now 30 years old, was born to an Iranian Muslim mother and an English agnostic father. ‘Originally’ the cape was ‘meant to be more burkha like, but I felt that would be too closely aligned with Islam’, she says. ‘I was always told to be very modest growing up, never wear your hair down and dress in a very modest way. I’m not criticising that at all, my mum was always trying to protect me’ she adds.
‘My mum would say ‘you might encourage people to look at you’ and I was interested in that idea. It’s insulting to men as well, that men would be reduced to this pathetic beast who must have sex with us straight away if they see a bit of ankle or something – it’s insulting to both sexes.’
The artist highlights that her cloak is meant to be satirical, she’s not actually suggesting that we all go out and buy one. Her point is that women should be able to wear whatever they want without the fear of being raped. No matter what you wear, you are never ‘asking for it’. However, ‘I do actually quite enjoy wearing it’, she says, ‘there’s something quite nice about being completely covered.’
With reference to high profile sexual assault cases such as Ched Evans, Sarah says ‘even the way that stories about rape are reported – it’s always emotive language about somehow the girl was involved’. ‘There is a complete disregard for women’ she says, ‘people say forgive and forget but no actually – it’s shocking that he can have a career after this.’
‘What makes me annoyed’ she says ‘is that women are just told so many times to stop making a fuss and just shut up.’
She hopes her work will get people to rethink the way they talk about rape and abuse ‘I just want to somehow make some kind of message with this work’, she says, ‘to get people thinking and talking about it.’
That message is clear: ‘the victim is never to blame’ Sarah says, ‘it is never their fault. Don’t be afraid to speak out.’
Maple’s cloak is on view at the ‘Art of Nuisance’, a series of ‘trouble-making’ workshops and events which, in her own words, are ‘all about making a noise, making a fuss, being a nuisance’. It is presented by The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance and runs from 8 October until 23 October in the UK.
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