Policing the Female Body: the Dress Code

From pre-K to the working world, our bodies are guided and governed by an ever-changing but ever-present set of rules: the dress code.

When students are as young as kindergarten, around six years old, they are already told what they can and cannot wear, and the code—both sanctioned and unspoken—doesn’t ever go away.

When I was 18, I started a job at a grocery store chain. During employee orientation, the trainers handed out nicely-bound rule books and policy manuals. In the section on the dress code, there were two paragraphs: one outlining rules about ponytails, spaghetti straps, and nail polish and a second on armpit hair and body odor. I couldn’t help but wonder why the company decided to organize the list of rules this way. They could have written the rules in one long paragraph. They could have been broken up based on clothes and hygiene. Instead, there were just two paragraphs…and it certainly seemed like one of them was targeting my gender and the other wasn’t.

Aside from the assumptions embedded here concerning what an average man and an average woman look like, there was something else that got my attention … One paragraph was twice as long as the other one!

There were twice as many rules in the section of the dress code that seemed to be regulating women’s appearance as the rules that seemed to apply to their men coworkers. Here are a few examples:

No visible armpit hair.
Limited facial piercings.
Limited visible tattoos.
Hair always pulled back neatly—no wisps or locks falling out!
Straps on all shirts must be “three fingers” wide.
Shorts must reach the bottoms of the fingertips.
No excessive makeup.
No excessive body odor.
No yoga pants; bottoms must have belt loops and back pockets to be considered acceptable.
No fingernail polish.

Some of these apply to all genders, and some I agree with. I won’t argue with rules related to basic food safety and hygiene. But some of these rules I have trouble justifying. Why is it important how wide or thin a woman’s straps might be, or the length of her shorts?

While I could just grumble about not being able to find a single pair of “acceptable” shorts, I choose to look a little deeper and question why so many rules exist in the first place. Could it be because my body, as a woman’s, is seen as inherently sexual, and must be covered to preserve my modesty? Perhaps it is my duty, as a sexual object, to do everything in my power to shield everyone from the distraction that is my physical body.

That is the same logic that contributes to rape culture overall and victim blaming.

When a girl is wearing a low-cut shirt and gets catcalled on the street, what did she expect, wearing something like that?

If she is at a party, wearing that same low-cut shirt, and gets raped, did she expect it then? Was she asking for it?

The dress code is just one small manifestation of rape culture. From the age of six, sometimes younger, girls’ physical appearances and expression are strictly regulated, whether informally, in the victim-blaming comments like the ones above, or formally, with a dress code. The dress code, seemingly insignificant when compared to explicit sexual violence, contributes to the same rape culture that regulates the feminine appearance and asserts that women’s bodies do not belong to them.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish

August Volunteer of the Month

MESA is pleased to spotlight Katie as our August Volunteer of the Month. Katie is an invaluable part of our volunteer team. Katie has always been such a willing volunteer and makes every effort to participate in everything we do. Thank you, Katie, for your dedication to MESA and our community!

Let’s hear from Katie!

  1. What do you enjoy most about volunteering with MESA?
    I enjoy believing and supporting survivors in our community who are too frequently disbelieved and re-victimized by society. I also enjoy empathizing with and aiding secondary survivors, or those who are supporting survivors they know personally
  2. How long have you been with MESA?
    I worked with MESA and SPAN’s joint partnership Peers Building Justice for two years while in high school, and have been on the hotline since fall of 2011.
  3. What was the last book you read?
    Believer by David Axelrod.
  4. What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
    I was the deputy finance director for a 2014 Secretary of State campaign that fundraised a record-breaking amount for that office.
  5. What three items would you take with you to a deserted island?
    Water, a phone, and a boat.
  6. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
    I would have Sherlock-like powers of deduction so I could solve crimes and entertain people at dinner parties.

Interested in becoming a MESA volunteer? Apply today!

Consent: It’s Not Really as Simple as Tea

Although the popular video urges its audience to think about consent in simpler terms, on a case-by-case basis, the dilemma is much more fraught than we are lead to believe.

Now, the very basic issues of consent are clear to most people. We all know the rules. No means no. Yes means yes. But what happens when a verbal “no” is never uttered? What happens when a yes only comes after alcohol is introduced into the situation? It is easy to understand how the topic quickly gets muddied.

Our widespread confusion about consent is writ large in the US media. Just look at the abundance of public sex assault cases in summer of 2017. Sometimes, it even shows up in our laws. Currently in North Carolina, the law states that someone cannot revoke consent in a sexual encounter once they have given it. It is the last of 50 states to maintain such a provision in its legal code, but it provides some insight into how sex and consent are viewed in the rest of the country, too.

The North Carolina law is based on a legal precedent (State vs. Way) set in 1979 that decided that once penetration with consent occurs consent cannot be revoked. Even at first glance, this seems like a drastic simplification of the intricacies involved in any sexual encounter, or in any encounter, period. Situations change, and so do attitudes—so why write obligatory, assumed, continued consent into law?

To continue using the “Consent is like Tea” metaphor to understand the dangers of North Carolina’s law, imagine that someone offered you tea and you said “yes.” So, you take a sip, but it’s boiling hot and burns your tongue. Or maybe it’s a flavor that you don’t like. Or it’s over-steeped and bitter. Or over-sweetened. Or there’s too much of it to possibly finish in one sitting. Or any other million reasons why you don’t want to keep drinking the tea. Are you still required to keep drinking the tea? Of course not—the very idea seems absurd. Why, then, is it so much harder to use this logic when it comes to sexual assault?

Luckily, NC Senator Jeff Jackson has proposed to change this misinformed and outdated law. In April, he introduced Senate Bill 553, which states that if someone continues after consent has been withdrawn, they are committing rape. Several months have passed since Jackson’s proposal and more than 17,500 people have signed a petition against the original, archaic law, but the bill is still sitting in committee.

Short of changing laws like Senator Jackson aims to do, how can we honor affirmed, informed, continued consent before it becomes a criminal case in court? Part of the reason that consent—when it regards sex—is so complicated is because honest and open discussions about sex are considered a taboo. How can we talk about consensual sex if we can’t even talk about sex?!

It all begins with communication. For you and the person or people that you’re with… Try starting a conversation with some questions like: What are you okay with? What are your boundaries? How do you express when you like what’s happening? When you don’t? What do you need to feel comfortable trying something new? What will you do or say if you want to stop?

If imagining this is uncomfortable as hell, that’s totally normal! It may not seem like the most important thing when all parties involved are on the same page, but that mutual understanding can change pretty quickly. And when it does, most of us do not have the tools to talk about sex or consent. So, it’s awkward.

But you know what’s worse than an awkward conversation? Sexual assault. And the difference between sex and sex assault lies in consent. So, be brave and have honest conversations about sex. Consent may never be as simple as tea, but it will be a lot easier if we move past our fears and discomfort and just start talking to each other.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish.

How Many Victims Does It Take to Convict a Celebrity Rapist?

Apparently, more than 50.

One of the big questions around sexual assault and rape culture is the following: Why don’t victims report? Why do they remain silent?

There are many reasons that contribute to the decision not to report, but there is a common thread that connects many of them. Victims and survivors remain silent because we, as a society, are silent. When it comes time to uphold justice and indict criminals, we are silent. When it comes time to speak out against rape culture and all the ways it manifests itself, we are silent. When we see victim-blaming or predatory behavior before our own eyes, often, we are silent.

And our silence speaks louder than any campaign—louder than “It’s on Us”, “Take Back the Night”, “He for She”, or Sexual Assault Awareness Month (every April).

Let’s consider the Bill Cosby trial. On June 17, 2017, the case surrounding Bill Cosby’s sexual assault of one woman, Andrea Constand, was declared a mistrial. This represents only one of a long list of famous men accused of similar crimes who never spent a day in prison: Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, R. Kelly… The list goes on.

Now, a mistrial is not the same thing as acquittal; in fact, the prosecution in the Cosby case has announced that they plan to set another court date within 120 days. Constand, one of the many women who accused Cosby of sexual assault and the only woman who the trial focused on, announced that she felt a new resolve, a new desire to push forward and seek definite answers.

Another important consideration is that, although Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, Constand’s accusation was the only one that fell within the criminal statute of limitations—the amount of time after a crime is committed when the case can still be prosecuted. Therefore, 49 of those 50 cases could not be considered in court.

Some who have been following the case may ask, “How is it possible for more than 50 women to speak out against the same man, and for him not spend a single day in prison?” Others are caught up in other questions. “Why didn’t the women speak out earlier, before the statute of limitations for their cases expired?”

The issue of reporting assaults years after they occur and of not reporting assaults at all is something that is brought up frequently, usually to question the validity of the reports that do get filed. However, for those working to end sexual assault, it is not all that puzzling why so many people decide to say nothing.

The hung jury in the Cosby case gives us an indication. To come forward, to bear the brunt of skepticism and victim blaming, to be thrown into the spotlight for one of the most terrible moments of your life and to see no traditional justice served at the end of the long ordeal—that’s (one of the many reasons) why.

Imagine that someone close to you has been sexually assaulted by a person who has a great reputation. They are a leader in the community; maybe they are even famous. To report, this loved one may face police officers that are skeptical at best as to “what really happened.” They may have to remain resolved in the face of questions about what they were wearing. Did they they lead the perpetrator on? How much did they have to drink? Then, time passes. From the date of a major criminal accusation, it takes at least a year for a case to go to trial. For Andrea Constand, it took more than ten. Then, your loved one finally goes to court. They might hear the defense speak about their character and their private sexual experiences in front of a room full of strangers, not all of them friendly. And then, finally, nothing. No resolution. No verdict of guilty or not guilty. All the time and energy spent are not denied, but rather put on the back burner, left to cool and collect dust.

For many people, this is not just some imaginative exercise. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), of every 1000 rapes, 994 rapists will walk free.

When we see this repeated failure to convict perpetrators of sexual assault, to believe victims and survivors, to deliver justice, it is not so hard to understand why so many people—between 60-80%, according to studies done by organizations like RAINN and The National Research Council—find it simpler, smarter, and safer to say nothing at all.

Our institutions are still poorly equipped to provide survivors with support and justice. But, there are grassroots organizations around the country pushing for changes in law, policy, and compassionate care for victims and survivors of sexual violence. Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), which serves Boulder and Broomfield counties, is just one of the countless rape crisis centers that provides confidential case management and in-person advocacy for survivors as well as implementing prevention education programs with youth to teach about consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and healthy masculinity.

While the voices of the 50 women who stepped forward to accuse Cosby did not convict him this time, it does seem like the tide of public opinion is turning. With each new story and harrowing case, it gets that much harder to let the next perpetrator of sexual violence walk free.

So, let’s not question why victims and survivors of sexual assault don’t report. There are complex and varied reasons. Let us ask ourselves instead: “What are we doing to make our community safer? How do we get justice and support for those who have been harmed? What are we doing to hold the people who have committed violence accountable?”

When victims and survivors speak out: listen. Believe and stand by them. And when they choose not to: feel compassion for their choice. Keep standing, speaking out, and moving to end sexual assault.

Written by Claire Cuthbert, MESA Intern and graduate of CU Boulder in Psychology and Spanish.

July 2017 Volunteer of the Month

MESA is pleased to spotlight Lizzie as our July Volunteer of the Month. Lizzie is an invaluable part of our volunteer team. Lizzie has always been such a willing volunteer and makes every effort to participate in everything we do. Thank you, Lizzie, for your dedication to MESA and our community!

Let’s hear from Lizzie!

  1. What do you enjoy most about volunteering with MESA?
    I feel like we’re living in such turbulent times that it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and begin to feel powerless. I wanted to give back to my community and put some love into the world. I’m a survivor myself and this work gives my pain a purpose; I appreciate being able to use my experiences to help others feel more supported and less alone.
  2. How long have you been with MESA?
    I graduated from the training program last Fall [2016].
  3. How do you usually spend your Saturdays?
    I like playing outside! I’m a big fan of tent camping, kayaking and canoeing (it’s the Minnesota in me). Taking my dirt bike into the mountains is great self-care for me. I really enjoy relaxing with close friends over bluegrass, beer and games. And taking naps snuggled up with my cat.
  4. What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
    Simply getting to this point in my life. 🙂 I’ve had my fair share of pretty tough curve balls thrown at me and I think I’ve been able to stay positive, focus on the learning opportunities and not lose hope. I’ve worked really hard to keep my sense of humor and integrity intact.
  5. What is your favorite joke?
    What time does Sean Connery get to Wimbledon? Tennish.
  6. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
    The ability to turn water into really, really, really good coffee.

Interested in becoming a MESA volunteer? Apply today!

June 2017 Volunteer of the Month

MESA is pleased to spotlight Liesy as our June Volunteer of the Month. Liesy is an invaluable part of our volunteer team. Liesy has always been such a willing volunteer and makes every effort to participate in everything we do. Thank you, Liesy, for your dedication to MESA and our community!

Let’s hear from Liesy!

Liesy G 06.17
I have only been with Mesa since March and working on the hotline since May, so [being chosen as volunteer of the month] came as a complete surprise to me. I am very grateful, but, truth be told, I am just glad to help in any way I can. The real joy of working at MESA for me is the tangible difference volunteers make by just being there and working with all people who are affected by the sexual assault epidemic of our world. Being an advocate for community members and teaching my friends and loved ones about how to tangibly make a difference, instead of just hoping for someone else to combat sexual assault, is what makes me want to keep doing more.

As it is for all of us, sexual assault has an intrinsic influence on my life. I have been doing advocacy work informally with my friends and family for years. As I am sure all volunteers have experienced, I’ve been thanked by strangers for just showing up at events and helping with such a difficult subject; It really puts this work in perspective. Donating a little time every month is not that much effort for me, and I am excited and happy to do anything to help heal and expand how MESA helps survivors and creates open dialogue with the community.

It feels a little strange being such a newcomer and being thanked for the work that so many have done before me, but it shows how much everyone needs MESA. Given our current political climate, it’s even more rewarding to give any extra help I can to an organization that is indirectly under attack by ignorance and fear. We [volunteers] all do such great work by holding space for pain, and creating an environment where people can get the help they need, subsequently creating a ripple effect through our own personal spheres of influence. I am honored and glad to be doing work that makes such a difference to even one person’s life. That’s what it’s about for me, just being there for one person.

Interested in becoming a MESA volunteer? Apply today!

Canine Classic 5k Winner Results Are In!

The Canine Classic was a wonderful success with a warm, sunny finish to warm participants and their pooches. The highlight of the event was afterward, watching all of the lovable, four-legged friends strut their stuff in the Dog Trick Contest. We can’t wait to share more! Stay tuned for pictures to follow!

Check out who took home the big win. Click HERE!

Announcing the 17th Annual Canine Classic 5k! You’re invited!!

Canine 2017 - Canine Logo w sponsors Great cause. Dogs. Running. Music. Fun.
Need we say more?

The Canine Classic is a unique event that helps support a cause that can be difficult to talk about. It provides a fun, positive, and light-hearted atmosphere that brings the community together to support sexual assault awareness.

The 17th annual Canine Classic 5k will be held on Sunday, April 30th 2017 at the Boulder Reservoir. Canine Classic is a dog-friendly 5k run/walk for participants of all ages. (Canine companion is optional.) This is a professionally-timed event that can be used as a BolderBOULDER qualifying time.

This year’s event will feature local DJ, Blakk Caesar (Henry Mitchell), delicious food from the Wheel & Whisk food truck, doggie vendor expo and more fun than you can shake at!

Learn more about this event at CanineClassicBoulder.org.

Interested in becoming a sponsor, vendor, or a volunteer? Contact Alyssa Paschall at events@movingtoendsexualassault.org.






Boulder artist, Kristin Sheldon, owner and creator of Heartstrings Card Company, has created and donated the Canine Classic race logos for over 25 years. Kristin’s whimsical three dogs, along with the bluebird have become iconic characters for the Canine Classic race every year.

Don’t miss your chance this year to own your very own Canine Classic swag, featuring these lovable mascots! Click here to learn more!

Announcing a Support Group for Primary Survivors of Sexual Assault

Survivor's Support GroupMoving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) is now offering a support group for primary survivors of sexual assault. If you are a survivor of sexual trauma, this group is for you. Benefit from emotional support, understanding, and encouragement from one another.
This 8-week group will provide:

  • A warm, safe, private setting with 3 to 6 members
  • Understanding on how trauma has affected you
  • Tools to help you manage difficult thoughts and feelings
  • A chance to share support with other survivors

Who it helps: This group is for primary survivors of sexual trauma
When: Thursdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (8 weeks) Starting March 9th, 2017
Where: Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA) – 1333 Iris Avenue, Boulder, CO 80304
Facilitator: Taylor Millard, BS, MSW candidate
Investment: $15 per session; Victim compensation accepted as payment form.

Space for this group is limited; register today!


MESA Hotline Volunteer Training Dates Announced

Training Dates Announced:

MESA’s Hotline volunteer training will be held February 23rd through March 22nd. MESA needs you! Gain skills and experience while moving to end sexual assault. Click HERE to apply today!

Recruitment Spring 2017