'What We Wore Before' installation decries victim-shaming in Czech society

A new installation by Konsent and Amnesty International displays clothes and stories of real rape victims to dispel prejudices.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 29.04.2022 14:41:00 (updated on 29.04.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

It's not a short skirt that's the cause of rape, a new exhibit near Prague's Wenceslas Square boldly declares – it's a rapist.

Unveiled in the center of Prague on Thursday, "What we wore before we were raped" ("Co jsme měli na sobě, než nás znásilnili") is organized by Amnesty International and Konsent, an organization dedicated to the prevention of sexual violence and harassment.

The window installation showcases stories of real rape victims and seeks to dispel the widespread thinking that the victim may be responsible for the attack.

In 2016, a survey by Amnesty International found that 67% of Czechs think that the victim is to blame for the rape. In response, activists launched the Konsent initiative to dispel myths about sexual violence. 

"More than half of the population of the Czech Republic think that the victim's provocative clothing, drunkenness, or [the decision to] be alone in a deserted place lead to rape. However, according to statistics, most rapes do not take place late at night after a disco in a remote part of the park and with an unknown perpetrator," said Irena Hůlová of Amnesty International Czech Republic.

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The installation wants to remind people that rape is most often committed by a person whom the victim knows well – a friend, a partner, a classmate, a colleague, a husband, or other relatives, and therefore clothes are irrelevant, said Hůlová. "In all circumstances, the perpetrator is responsible for the rape.”

Most of the clothes presented at the exhibition were selected on the basis of a specific description of the actual female and male rape survivors. Some pieces are exactly the ones the survivor was wearing before the rape.

Do Czechs consider sexual assault a serious matter?

According to a Eurobarometer 2016 report, almost a quarter (24%) of Czech respondents saw forced sex with a partner as something that shouldn’t be against the law. When it comes to rape, some Czechs (17%) considered it justified in some cases, such as when the person doesn’t fight back or if they were flirting beforehand. 

57 percent of Czech respondents also thought that women are more likely to be raped by a stranger when, in fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that in all countries the perpetrator is more likely to be someone the victim knows.

To tackle this issue, Konsent held primary sexual violence prevention workshops When You Want It and organized a self-help group for women who have been victims of sexual violence.

In 2019, the organization decided to address harassment in bars and clubs with the Respect is Sexy campaign and set up a network of companies that do not tolerate harassment. 

"Because flirting is a party, harassment is not," say the organizers. 

As the demand for youth workshops grew, Konsent developed methodologies for teachers on teaching sex education in a project supported by the OSF Foundation No taboo in front of the blackboard. And because sex education starts in families, they also offer workshops for parents on how to talk to children about sex or cyber violence.

Czechia behind EU in protecting victims of sexual violence

The legal definition of rape in the Czech Republic defines the act as coercion to sex “by violence or threat of violence or threat of other serious harm” and “[the abuse of] his/her inability to defend him/herself for such purpose.”

In a time when many European countries are moving to a definition of rape based on the lack or withdrawal of consent, the Czech definition, based on the assumption of force or violence, is quickly becoming outdated.

This year, Konsent began lobbying for a change in the rape law, sparked by outrage over current legislation. 

A damning report by the proFem NGO reveals that more than half of women in the Czech Republic have experienced some form of sexual harassment and violence at some point in their life. Incidents range from verbal assaults, unwanted touching, or erotic messaging, to rape, something experienced by as much as 9 percent of women and 2 percent of men.

The installation is accessible directly from the street at Štěpánská 37, close to Wenceslas Square. It will be on view until May 5.

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