07/12/2013 12:17 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT

"You Will Get Raped in That Dress"


"You will get raped in that dress."

It was the late 80s, I was prom-dress shopping with my mother and that was her reaction to my choice of a snug, cotton-candy pink, sequined mini-dress. I dismissed her rape warning as old-fashioned thinking from a well-meaning mother of a different generation.

Two and a half decades later, I think back to that conversation and can apply the language that I didn't have then: victim-blaming, slut-shaming, rape culture. I think about how angry and frustrated I get when I hear people make comments implying that what a woman wears, drinks, says or does in any way provokes or makes her partially responsible for being sexually assaulted.

No woman is to blame for being sexually assaulted. Ever.

I really wish that I could say that sexual assault and victim-blaming died with my permed hair and pink dress in the 80s. But victim blaming is definitely alive and well in Canada.

According to a new study conducted by the Canadian Women's Foundation, one in five Canadians think that a woman provokes sexual assault if she is drunk and 11 per cent believe she encourages sexual assault when she wears a short skirt.

But in my opinion, the most shocking finding was that younger adults, aged 18 to 34, are more likely than any other age group to blame victims. Nearly one-quarter said women may provoke sexual assault by being drunk and 17 per cent believe women invite assaults by wearing short skirts.

These antiquated attitudes are not held by the old-fashioned or aging demographic but by younger Canadians who, rather than denouncing rape or questioning why some men sexually assault women, actually believe women may be complicit in their own attack. WHY?

Is it because of "you know you want it" songs like Robin Thicke's summer anthem "Blurred Lines", whose lyrics have been described as "a little rapey" and whose video features near naked women parading for fully clothed men?

Or is it because of the ongoing glamourizing and making fun of sexual assault online, most recently brought to light in the #FBrape campaign which highlighted pages built to promote rape culture?

Or maybe it's because the language of rape has become common place, with college and high school students often proclaiming "I raped that exam" or "I got raped by that midterm."

Or have our attitudes been at a stand still because we aren't brave enough to talk about sexual assault or ask different questions? As a country we've been able to shift thinking about the social acceptability of drinking and driving. We've made monumental strides on attitudes about smoking. There is no reason why we can't begin to have brave conversations that challenge assumptions and end victim blaming.

Some of the boldest and bravest conversations happening in Canada are occurring in the Canadian Women's Foundation funded teen violence prevention programs where youth learn to stop the violence before it starts by learning about healthy relationships, respect and consent.

It is a great start but it's not nearly enough. We need to start speaking up when the word rape is used in casual conversation. We need to hold celebrities to account when they release music that is "a little rapey." And we need to educate young Canadians about why sexual assault is not the responsibility of the victim.

I protested and I wore that snug, pink sequined dress to my prom. And I didn't get raped. If I had, would you have blamed me for it?

Canadian Bullying Victims