According to two anonymous Democratic sources who spoke with Politico, it seems like a case of victim-blaming took place on Capitol Hill. According to the report, Democratic lawmaker Marcy Kaptur said cleavage invites sexual harassment. Kaptur's comments reportedly stunned members in the room who were listening to her. She also reportedly described certain provocative clothing without pointing her finger at anyone.
While speaking of no one in particular, Kaptur said, "I saw a member yesterday with her cleavage so deep it was down to the floor." She then went on to say, "And what I’ve seen […] it's really an invitation." Although the meeting was a private one, the comments were leaked by two sources who spoke with Politico.
The Democratic lawmaker also seemed to be aware of the possible backlash for her controversial comments, at least according to her own remarks. She said she supported the idea of a uniform code in politics. "Maybe I’ll get booed for saying this, but many companies and the military [have] a dress code." She also stated her deep dislike for how certain women dressed on Capitol Hill. "I have been appalled at some of the dress of [...] members and staff. Men have to wear ties and suits," she said.
On Wednesday, however, Kaptur tried clearing up her reported comments by claiming she didn't mean to victim-blame.
When I was first elected to Congress my office and I became a refuge for female staffers who had been mistreated by their bosses. Some of them in tears many days. It is something I carry with me to this day and something I brought up during our Caucus meeting. Under no circumstances is it the victim’s fault if they are harassed in any way.
In spite of her clarifying statement, Kaptur remained tied to her first assertion: women need to dress differently. According to The Huffington Post, Kaptur said, "I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the 'Me Too' legislation and how we can elevate the decorum and the dress code to protect women from what is a pervasive problem here and in society at large."
This isn't the first time that such a comment came from a Democrat. In October, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson from Texas said something similar to Kaptur. Johnson told Texas' local news station NBC 5 that women were, in some capacity, responsible for preventing sexual abuse. Johnson made a comment about how women dress and how that can, like Kaptur claimed, invite sexual harassment.
"I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman’s responsibility as it was a man’s ― how you were dressed, what your behavior was," Johnson said. She also said, "I think that many times, men get away with this because they are allowed to get away with it by the women."
Later on, just like Kaptur, Johnson issued a statement to The Huffington Post to clarify what she meant, "I do not blame the victims of sexual assault for the actions of their assailants. I do acknowledge that my comments regarding behavior and attire come from an old school perspective that has shaped how some of us understand the issue, but that does not detract from the fact that criminals need to be held accountable for their actions."
"What were you wearing?" is a frequently-asked question for sexual assault victims. The disturbing insinuation behind such a question seems to be that perhaps what the victim had on at the time influenced the attacker to hurt them. Working on such a subject, an art exhibition at the University of Kansas held a "What Were You Wearing?" installation.
With different people's clothes hanging on the wall, the exhibit showed the everyday, common, and utterly plain clothes women had on when they were assaulted. It was a poignant and heartbreaking commentary on victim-blaming attitudes in society where well-meaning people, including politicians, inadvertently place the onus of protection on women, not the attacker.