Salt Lake City, May 29 — The Rape Recovery Center (RRC), an advocacy organization for victims of sexual assault ages 14 and older, reacted on Thursday with outrage against Wasatch High School officials who selectively digitally altered female student yearbook photos to reflect their version of modest clothing choices.
“This action, a decision made by a few school officials with no apparent consultation with students or parents, is just unacceptable,” said Holly Mullen, RRC executive director. “It is a keen example of how our culture, and especially those in power to make such random decisions, shame young women into thinking they must dress and act in one narrow, acceptable way.”
News broke on Wednesday that Wasatch High School officials had photoshopped yearbook photos of selected girls they believed wore immodest clothing in the pictures. Bits of tattoos were covered; short sleeves magically enshrouded bare arms.
Mullen added that such seemingly kind and paternal behavior reinforces a general theme in society that women must be controlled and directed, so as not to inflame male sexual appetites. It is the type of thinking that objectifies women and ultimately leads to sexual assault.
“I hope the public will sit with this and realize it goes well beyond a gaffe by a few single-minded school leaders,” she said. “This is the start of a continuum that nurtures and even encourages control over girls and women. What is more personal than their clothing choices? This is not about setting school dress codes, which schools certainly have the right to do. These were photos the girls paid for, yearbooks they bought with their own money. This is a public school, supported with tax dollars.”
At the very least, Mullen said, the Wasatch County School District Board must investigate the matter and train administrators and faculty that such actions reach beyond their scope of authority.
Mullen said that female survivors of sexual violence who seek advocacy and support at the RRC frequently voice feelings around early experiences where adults shamed them and placed sole responsibility on them for keeping males from acting on their sexual desires. They almost always blame themselves for wearing the wrong clothing or somehow encouraging men to rape them through their reckless behavior.
“We spend an inordinate amount of time with our clients trying to reverse this mentality among victims and our entire society,” Mullen said. “Short skirts and bare arms do not cause rape. Rapists cause rape.”
Since 1974, the Rape Recovery Center is the only independent, non-profit agency in the state of Utah to serve all victims of sexual violence ages 14 and older, full-time. The RRC provides 24-hour crisis intervention, advocacy and mental health therapy for all on a sliding fee scale. In 2013, the RRC provided 8,432 direct services to sexual assault survivors and family members. The agency also offers age-appropriate education and sexual assault prevention presentations to middle school and high school students. Last year, the RRC reached more than 5,000 students with a curriculum based on building safe and healthy relationships.