What Should a Rape Victim Wear to Trial?
I couldn't control the actions of the man who chose to rape me but I could control the outfit I wore when I testified against him in a court of law.
I wanted to be respectful to the military professional standards of dress and appearance since he was active duty Navy at the time of the assault. I was a civilian in a military trial playing by their rules. I asked the prosecuting legal team what advice they could give when it came to appearance in court as a rape victim.
- Hair up or down?
- Glasses or contacts?
- Suit with pants or skirt?
- Or dress pants and a nice shirt?
- Black, blue or a different color?
As silly as it may have seemed, I believed that first impressions made a huge difference on how people judged you. I wasn't familiar with the military culture and I wanted to give a respectful good impression.
Below is the response from the legal team...
I am more than happy to help you out on the clothing front. As a former civilian prosecutor, I definitely know how tough a balancing act dressing for court can be. This is a bit long, but I tried to break it down by outfit component.
Suits: I suggest that you start off with a well-tailored, nice suit, dark colored, in tropical wool or something similar. (The fabric type should be the least of your worry, but if you have the choice, go with the natural fabric). I encourage you to wear something with feminine (but not super-girly) tailoring—you do not want to look like you threw on a men’s suit, or a very boxy woman’s suit, since those tend not to fit well. Try Ann Taylor if you’re looking to buy a new one.
I do not suggest a straight-up plain black suit. They can look very nice, but they can also be boring. You do not want to be boring, believe it or not—not that you want to be a party girl, but you can’t appear like a kid playing dress up with her parents’ clothing. If you have something in a charcoal, or a dark dove, that would be great as a plain solid. Blue is not my favorite for solid suiting, it somehow always looks dated. You want to look together and professional—not prudish and out of date. Pin striping or herringbone is also great, provided it is well done. I’d avoid houndstooth as a pattern for anything.
Suit Jacket: Do not go for one of the cropped jackets, or one with ruffled or rounded lapels. They tend to look less formal, and more “girl on her way to her first job at a magazine.” I suggest more traditional peaked lapels, and a longer jacket. They’ll be sleeker looking and more professional in court. Your lapels should be moderate in width, tending slightly toward more narrow than more wide. Do not get a jacket that’s too tight. A lot of women buy these tight, cropped suit jackets, and it just looks like they shrunk their suit in the wash.
Suit Pants: Wear a pants suit, not a skirt suit. With a skirt suit, you’d need to have the skirt go below your knees (and remain below your knees while you are sitting), wear panty hose and be sure that you are hyper-vigilant every time you cross your legs or move at all. Pants are just going to be easier. Nothing too tight or low rise.
Shoes: Shoes should be nice, fairly plain, well shined and neither superhigh in heel, nor super pointy in toe (or super boxy. Please do not go and buy a pair of, for want of a better term, old lady shoes. A two-inch heel, something between a chunky heel and a stiletto, almond toed, is what I am picturing. Patent leather if possible.) Also, wear socks or hose with them.
Shirts: I wouldn’t wear a white shirt, or a pastel colored shirt—unless either happens to look better on you than any alternative. I would look for a saturated color that looks good on you without being obnoxious. If you have a collared button-down shirt, that’s ideal. If not, a plain long-sleeve T-shirt should do the job (J. Crew sells good ones, if you’re looking to buy). Definitely long sleeves. Just do not wear anything low-cut, clingy, sheer, or stained (I know this sounds obvious, and I am not worried about you, but I have seen some horror stories). If you have tattoos, do not let them show.
Jewelry: A conservative, understated wristwatch is fine. Earrings are fine. I wouldn’t wear more than one pair, if you have multiple piercings. I’d go for simple studs, not dangling earrings. You can wear a necklace if you wish, but none of those big statement necklaces. Something very simple, on a chain. If you normally wear a ring, as long as it is not a huge cocktail ring, that should be OK, but if you do not—the rule about looking in the mirror and removing one accessory before leaving the house is just as true for court as anywhere else.
Hair: Some will say you need a bun. I am not sure what your hair looks like, or if your face type is one that looks good in a bun. Frankly, it’s more important that you look pulled together than that you hit a checklist of things someone else tells you to wear. I would do a low ponytail, a low bun, just nothing too messy. I wouldn’t let it out, I would tie it back in some way. Do not worry about trying to do a military bun.
Makeup: Minimal. Powder or foundation to keep off the shine (even if you normally do not get shiny, I am assuming you’ll be nervous which will up that shine factor). Light mascara, light matte lipstick or stain. Skip eye shadow and liner. Maybe some blush if you’re worried about looking pale. No gloss!
Glasses or contacts: Wear whichever makes you feel more comfortable—if you try something too new on the stand, you’ll feel awkward and the members will pick up on it, but will assume a different reason than the fact that, for example, you usually wear glasses but today you’re wearing contacts.
Purse: Do not worry about your bag; you won’t take it to the stand with you, so the members won’t see it.
That was long, but I hope it helped. Please feel free to email me or call my office if you have any questions.
--V/r, LTJG Genevieve Loutinsky
I printed the email, highlighted the key points and went shopping for the most important “interview” outfit of my life. Here’s the rundown:
- Simple earrings: $14
- Suit jacket and pants: Originally $368 but half off at $184
- Three shirts: All on sale totaling $75
- Pantyhose: On sale at $15
- Shoes: Half off at $35
$323 for a single outfit.
I had no any idea how much pressing charges would cost me in time, energy and actual money. If I hadn't been serious about seeking legal justice to do my part in holding accountable the actions of the man who chose to rape me in hopes of preventing him from traumatizing other women, I would have dropped out of the legal process.
It's been almost 5 years since I walked into that courtroom and testified for 2 days. I still have that outfit and call it my "Taking Care of Business" suit. It's the same one I wore when invited by the DoD Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to speak as a civilian about the military legal process.
Seeking legal justice can be as traumatizing, if not more, as the initial assault. Thankfully, I had a legal team and an amazing security guy who was there for me along the way. They were willing to answer (potentially to them) trivial questions such as what I should wear as a rape victim but anxiety filled for me.
I couldn't control the actions of the man who chose to rape me but at least I felt confident in how I looked when I testified against him in a court of law.
This post if based off of a chapter in my book "One of Us" - Interested in learning more about my experience of life after assault and seeking legal justice? Pre-order your copy of "One of Us: Sex, Violence, Injustice, Resilience, Love, Hope" here today!