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Friday, October 20, 2017 

Modest dress doesn't protect from sexual assault

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, some adherents to Orthodox Judaism, including Haredis or former ones, have spoken up to make some points about why you can't expect dressing modestly to discourage sexual assault in all instances:
Dressing modestly and conforming to the halachic principle of tznuit may have helped protect “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik from unwanted advances in Hollywood. But it didn’t save Yocheved Sidof, who was groped by an Orthodox business associate when she was working as a professional filmmaker.

“I was filming on the Bowery and this married man from Monsey thought it was OK to casually rub my backside as he was introducing me to his staff,” Sidof, founder and executive director of Lamplighters Yeshivah in Crown Heights, wrote in a Facebook post last weekend.

And wearing loose clothing to accommodate her high school’s strict dress code did not protect Rachel Caplan, a 26-year-old actor who grew up Modern Orthodox, from snide comments and inappropriate stares.

“Predators and perpetrators of these acts and crimes are not concerned with what a woman is wearing,” Caplan told the Jewish Week.

Sidof, who is Lubavitch, and Caplan were not alone in their views. The New York Times op-ed penned by Bialik, who is Orthodox and something of an icon for observant women, suggesting that modest clothing could protect women from predatory behavior by men, and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, landed like a one-two punch in the Orthodox community. (Bialik later apologized for the op-ed, posting on Twitter “I am truly sorry for causing so much pain, and I hope you can all forgive me.")

After Bialik’s piece appeared late last week, and after the #MeToo campaign took off, a wave of response from Orthodox women flooded social media. Story after story from tzniut-observant women — many of whom put their names to their allegations — chronicled Weinstein-like sexual misconduct in the workplace, on dates and on the street. (The hashtag #MeToo campaign was launched last weekend so women could show how widespread the problem is.)

In a Facebook post that received hundreds of likes and shares, Caplan chronicled some of the “dangerous” messages she received about modesty while attending an all-girls Orthodox high school. She described the covert and frequently overt messaging as “’taking the ‘What was she wearing?’ culture to the extreme.”

“I have friends dressed in skirts and long sleeves and they still opened up about being harassed in public,” she said. “Perpetrators can fetishize anyone and anything. Sometimes it’s even more fun for them to mess with a woman who is clearly Orthodox and modestly dressed.”
Similarly, even Muslim women aren't safe from predators no matter how they're dressed. One of the worst places where abuse can happen is obviously behind closed doors, where sexual assault could take place in private. I've already posted about a lot of those atrocities myself, and even men can be victims.

As this article proves, modest dress is not a defense against sexual assault, and definitely not even physical assault. What matters is what kind of education is being given, both at home and in schools, for both children and adults.

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