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A look at the factors behind the rape culture in Bangladesh

  • Published at 07:00 pm October 11th, 2020
Anti Rape Shahbagh
File photo of anti-rape protesters demonstrating with banners like 'Boycott the rapist' in Dhaka’s Shahbagh on October 9, 2020 Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune

Victim blaming is one of the core reasons behind rapists remaining free of blame in Bangladesh

Victim-blaming attitudes have become the main obstacle to fight “rape culture” in Bangladesh as it makes it harder for the survivors to come forward and report the abuse.

Unfortunately, a huge part of the mass population  love to character assassinate victims rather than pointing fingers at the rapists.

“What were these girls doing at a hotel at midnight with men?” Most people chose to ask this question at the Banani rape incident back in March, 2017. Even in the recent rape incident of Noakhali, some users of social media platforms did not “like” the fact that the victim lived separately from her husband.    

Academics and human right activists believe that victim blaming fuels the rape culture in Bangladesh.

That culture includes our attitudes like misogyny, trivializing sexual assault, publicly scrutinizing a woman’s dress, mental state and motives, defining manhood as dominant and sexually aggressive while defining womanhood as submissive and sexually passive, and teaching women to avoid getting raped, which are major factors behind rape culture.

What is rape culture?

According to Women’s Center of Marshall University: “Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamourization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

Adding another point in the perspective of Bangladesh, Dhaka University’s Professor Reazul Haque said the concept of proving femininity for girls encourages men in the rape culture.

“The idea of purity of a girl lying in her virginity came from religion in the Bangladeshi society,” the chairman of the Department of Development Studies opined.

“From this point of view, a sizable portion of the population in Bangladesh including women suffer from a severe victim-blaming mentality,” he told Dhaka Tribune.  

Why is victim-blaming dangerous?

According to the Southern Connecticut State University, when a survivor feels that her surroundings and the whole society blame her for being a subject to abuse, they do not feel safe coming forward and talking about abuse. This attitude of the society allows the abuser to perpetrate a relationship of abuse or sexual assault.

Bangladesh ranked 41st last-year in the rape statistic by World Population Review while 11,682 cases were recorded. 

Besides, Ain O Salish Kendra recorded 632 rape incidents between April-August at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh.

However, academics and human rights workers claim that the actual scenario is worse than the statistics as many incidents remain unreported.

“The abusers always try to justify the crime by blaming the victim,” said Khushi Kabir, secretary of the governing body of Nijera Kori, a non-government organization in Bangladesh.

“When the victim has to take the blame, the culprit thinks he didn’t do anything wrong. On the other hand, considering the situation from a patriarchal view, the victim marginalizes herself,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

Other factors behind rape culture

According to experts, rape culture does not exist due for fulfilling sexual desires, as not everyone becomes a rapist despite all humans having needs.

In fact, political power, economic strength and religious influence also drive rape culture in a society like Bangladesh in order to weaken the women.

“Abuse of power and absence of accountability of the state creates misogyny, and trivializing sexual assault can put the men in a supreme state,” said Khushi Kabir.

“That is why a patriarchal society can easily raise questions about a victim’s dress, mental state and motives for bringing on a rape incident instead of identifying rape as a criminal offence,” she added.

“Parents are always conscious about the girls at all levels in the society so that they can avoid rape but parents are mostly not worried about their sons becoming a potential abuser,” said Prof Reaz.

“That is why many people who would not ever dream of raping anyone still harbour ideas and thoughts that contribute to the culture of rape in Bangladesh,” he added.

How to prevent rape culture?

Raising awareness against rape, holding people accountable, revising the policies, ensuring justice and creating an environment for open dialogue are the keys to preventing rape culture in Bangladesh. However, this is not that easy to do.

Prof Reaz said: “A holistic approach is needed to combat sexual violence. For example, if policies are not updated, justice will not be ensured and how will we expect people to be accountable?”

Khushi Kabir said the government should take responsibility to improve the situation and people should also change their mindset to establish a livable society for women.

In a statement on Thursday, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said “Bangladeshi women have had enough of the government’s abject failure to address repeated rapes and sexual assaults. The Bangladesh government needs to finally make good on its empty promises and heed activists’ calls to take meaningful action to combat sexual violence and to support survivors.”

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