EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele delivered this speech for the “What were you wearing that day?” exhibition on gender-based violence, organised by the European Commission on 16 November 2021. Watch the speech on the European Commission's website (starting at 12:35 of the video).

Good evening everybody.

When I saw the title of this exhibition, I immediately knew what it was about. I’m sure, no matter which country or countries you come from, you did too.

I recognised one of the many rape myths that just won’t go away. One of the many myths that somehow tries to put the blame on victims for the violence they have faced.

No doubt you will have heard this myth, because it is one that a large chunk of the EU population still believes in.

Sadly, more than a quarter of EU citizens say they believe that sex without consent is permissible in some situations, for example if the victim is  drunk or wearing what they would consider to be “revealing” clothes. 

There are admittedly big differences between EU countries, but the figures are still shocking.

And that is why this exhibition is so important, and so urgent. It holds a mirror up to our societies, which still too often refuse to listen to those who say they have been raped.

Our societies refuse to listen, even when a victim seeks the protection of the law. Today, in 2021, ‘sex without consent’ is not automatically considered rape in the legislation of most EU countries. The majority require some other element, like physical violence on the part of the rapist. 

At the European Institute for Gender Equality, the European Union’s knowledge centre on gender equality, we have solid data on different forms of gender-based violence, including of course rape.

This data gives us one dimension of women’s experiences.

It gives us an idea, for example, of how many victims have reported their rapes to the police, and the share of rapists who have been sentenced for those crimes.

This kind of information is critical if we want to estimate the number of victims of gender-based violence, and if we want to design the right laws and policies to stop it.

But data can never tell the full story.

Behind each case of violence there is a real person, and a real story.

Data can be shocking and it can provide the necessary baseline evidence. But it cannot make us understand the full experiences of victims.

It cannot, for example, show us what a person was wearing when they were raped.

And that is why we need both data and stories to bring about cultural change. To bring an end to myths about why victims are to blame for being raped, or harassed, or for staying in a violent relationship.

What better way to destroy the myth that a short skirt might get you raped, than by showing what victims actually wore when they were assaulted?

That is why I am so grateful to the brave individuals who have shared their stories for this exhibition.

We need to prevent rape, protect victims, and make sure that no perpetrator goes unpunished. If we ever want to achieve this, we need to listen to these stories. 

Thank you.