One after another, women and children are raped, tortured, and murdered in Bangladesh, creating only some social ripples, limited to rhetoric alone.
The recent incident of rape in Bogra, where the rape victim and her mother had their heads shaved, is not any less dramatic or evil than anything seen in movies.
It is shocking that the wife of the rapist beat and humiliated a teenager as punishment, after the rape, as if getting raped was her fault.
However, blaming women for rape is what hundreds of millions of men (and women) here are taught to do.
The reasons behind this irrational culture are terrible lies which our society tells men and women. These lies spread false beliefs about reasons for sexual assault, rape, and rape victims, serving to justify sexual aggression.
Here are some of those lies.
Lie: Sexual assault is an act of lust and uncontrollable passion
In Bangladesh, it is this sense of impunity which encourages rape.
People affiliated with politicians and influential people might be more prone to commit rape. They feel that they don’t need to control their urges as they have money, power, and connections which eventually give them a license to commit rape.
They are individuals who sexually assault victims to assert power and control over them, and inflict violence, humiliation, and degradation.
However, some countries that follow strict Sharia law for rape, or use capital punishment, report lower rates of rape. This could indicate that perhaps if people are aware that they will be punished mercilessly, irrespective of their position in society, they will be less likely to commit the crime.
Lie: You can identify a rapist by the way he looks
Rapists are not physically identifiable.
They may appear friendly, normal, and non-threatening. In many cases, well-known professors of leading universities and religious leaders in our country are found to be charged with rape who, even in the wildest dream of the victims, do not look like rapists.
Lie: Victims provoke sexual assaults when they dress provocatively or act in a promiscuous manner
If attire truly was the instigator, it cannot explain the rapes of babies and young children, the rape and murder of Tonu, who donned a hijab, the rapes of old women, etc.
State protection alone is unable to protect women from sexual assault unless people change their mindsets
Many rapists, in their interviews, try to blame the victim for wearing provocative clothes or for flirting with them, but these excuses are completely unacceptable.
In no way does the victim’s behaviour or clothing choices mean that they are consenting to sexual activity.
Lie: Sexual assaults only occur in dark alleys and isolated areas
A sexual assault can happen anywhere and at any time. Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows -- a neighbour, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, classmate, spouse, partner, or ex-partner.
People are raped in their homes, their workplaces, and other settings where they have previously felt safe. In fact, many cases of rape involve close family members with access to the victim’s house.
These kinds of incidents go unreported due to societal and familial “honour.” Children especially are most vulnerable in this regard, as they cannot even express to their parents that they were abused by their close relatives.
Lie: A rape survivor will be battered, bruised, and hysterical
Many rape victims will not be visibly injured.
Sometimes the threat of violence may force one to submit, sometimes they may be blackmailed into it. There are many reasons why a victim might not physically fight their attacker, including shock, fear, threats, or the size and strength of the attacker. Victims may feel that fighting or resisting will make the attacker angry, resulting in more severe injury.
Immediate reactions after a rape may also vary. Some rape survivors remain controlled, numb, in shock, denial, and disbelief. They remain quiet and reserved, and have difficulties expressing themselves.
Other rape survivors respond quite differently -- being very expressive and verbalising feelings of sadness or anger.
State protection alone is unable to protect women from sexual assault unless people change their mindsets. If religion is brought into the equation, men should stop objectifying women and instead of finding fault in women’s attires, lower their gazes as prescribed in the religious scriptures.
Unfortunately, mindsets in which patriarchal beliefs are ingrained cannot be changed overnight.
Therefore, if the state fails to protect women from sexual violence, they need to protect themselves and others, and be aware of the threats that are out there.
Barrister Quazi Maruful Alam is Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Nazia Rahman is Assistant Professor, State University of Bangladesh.