Introducing: The Anti-Rape Cloak

Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Maple.
One of the greatest misconceptions of survivors of sexual assault is that they "were asking for it," by how they were acting, or, even more baffling, what they were wearing. Were they dressed in too provocative a look? Too skimpy? Too suggestive? Somehow, over the years, fashion and consent have become so interrelated, making a woman's ability to freely sport an outfit of her choosing difficult. And that's where British artist Sarah Maple and her new feminist project, The Anti-Rape Cloak, come into play.

Maple is not unfamiliar with creating art that sparks conversation (The Independent dubbed her "the heir to Tracey Emin's throne"), particularly when it comes to the the role (and treatment) of females in modern society. And it was the idea that women are often blamed for their own attacks that led Maple to create this piece.

"It's very evident from the abuse feminists get online that many people think that we are 'making a fuss about nothing' and we should be quiet," Maple tells Refinery29 about how society treats not just survivors of sexual assault, but women in general. "I have had many friends — a disturbing number of women — go through sexual assault in some way. And sadly, none of them reported it to the police. I think part of the reason for that was because they felt they were making a fuss, or had somehow brought it on themselves. This really upsets me."

After participating in a feminist activist artist residency in London, which looked at the Suffragettes, and "how people patronisingly referred to their protests as a nuisance," Maple became interested in the notion of "victim-blaming" — and how unfortunately (and scarily) prevalent it is today:

"I was reading Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates, and I realized how many women have gone through this, and how the blame always seems to be put on the victim — by both the abuser and often by the victim themselves," she says. "It's very odd that women are encouraged to be sexy — we are constantly told by the media that our sexiness dictates our value and worth, but then if we dress sexily, we deserve to be raped. It's a contradiction that I just can't get my head around. It's also ridiculous to think that a bit of female flesh on view turns men into savage beasts who must have sex right away. It's a damaging idea for both sexes!"
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Maple.
That's when the concept of the Anti-Rape Cloak popped into her head.

"A person should be able to wear whatever they like without the fear of being raped, even if it became fashionable to wear see-through PVC trousers," she continues. "My cloak is an ironic twist on this — as if, by wearing a garment from head-to-toe, I am now completely safe from rape in any place and any context. That I am no longer 'asking for it.' Isn't this as ridiculous as the idea that women bring on abuse themselves?" So it's not about the idea of protection, she says, as much it is a "tongue-in-cheek, satirical piece of art about this notion of women 'asking for it.'"

After speaking with survivors of rape and abuse, Maple created the piece, pulling not just from their experiences, but from her Muslim heritage, which encourages female modesty.

"Initially, the cloak was meant to be very burka-like (as in completely covered, apart from the eyes), but then I realized this was linking it too closely with Islam, which wasn't what I was going for. So I removed the hood and niqab. I was raised as a Muslim, and in Islam, women are told to dress modestly. I find it funny that many people [criticize] Islam for this and the wearing of the Burka, when essentially the idea that women should dress a certain way to avoid being raped is obviously a belief held by many in the western world!"

To spread this message, Maple traveled throughout the United States, photographing herself wearing the cloak in different parts of the country. Seeing a woman dressed in this type of piece in unexpected places, like a parking garage or a playground, definitely gets people thinking about consent — which is exactly what Maple aimed to do.

"It scares me how blasé people are about [consent] nowadays," she says. "With this work, I want people to rethink their views about rape and abuse. No one is ever asking for it. We shouldn't be asking women to cover up. Instead we should be educating people about consent." So, the point of the cloak is that no one should ever feel they have to wear one; fashion (like sexual intimacy, for that matter) should be all about choice.

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