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OP-ED: When victim-blaming comes from the highest level

  • Published at 10:37 pm June 29th, 2021
rape victim harassment

Our toxic patriarchal attitudes explain the epidemic of sexual violence around us

In a recent interview with Axios journalist Jonathan Swan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan mentioned women’s clothes to be the reason behind the rise in rape and sexual violence in Pakistan. Since then, it has sparked outrage among everyone who is concerned about the serious issue of sexual violence against women.

If I consider it to be a comment from the individual person Imran Khan, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. However, when such a comment comes from Prime Minister Imran Khan, the head of the government of a country, it no longer remains normal or acceptable.

It becomes far more appalling when the women in his own country are facing sexual violence every day and everywhere, and here he is endorsing the narrative of victim-blaming on an international platform.

Now, it is time to look at ourselves, as we also have our fair share of this mentality in Bangladesh. Many of our politicians, and even certain celebrities, have expressed the same view at different times. Moreover, when any news about rape or sexual violence against women is posted on social media, it immediately gets flooded with comments attacking the victim and questioning the victim’s character. Men come up with long lists of advice on how women should dress and live their lives.

Quite recently, we witnessed a famous actress claiming that she was sexually violated in a club in Dhaka. Right after the news broke out, there was a surge of content in social media regarding the actress’s personal life to prove how unruly and undisciplined she was as a person.

A big group asked: Why was she outside at midnight? According to them, if a woman is out of home and the clock strikes 12, everything is justified. As a result of all these personal attacks, her private life became the major issue, instead of her allegations against specific persons.

At this point, I need to refute the arguments of victim-blaming once again, as we have been doing relentlessly for years. Often, I find it lamentable to be compelled to refute such arguments even in the 21st century.

On March 8 this year, International Women’s Day, a unique exhibition took place in the German city of Aachen. It was not about photography or paintings. It exhibited the dresses women were wearing when they were raped or sexually violated. A similar exhibition was arranged in Brussels in 2018.

The dresses that were exhibited make it crystal clear to us that sexual violence has nothing to do with Imran Khan’s “few clothes.” In fact, questioning women’s outfits doesn’t just manifest the worst kind of misogyny, it emboldens rapists further, as this gives them an argument no matter how irrational it is.

Now, we need to delve into some rape and sexual assault cases in Bangladesh. Sohagi Jahan Tonu was raped and murdered, and Nusrat Jahan Rafi was burned to death as she protested against sexual violence. These two women used to wear the hijab, but that was not enough to save their lives.

According to the latest report by the rights group Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, 45 children were raped just last month. What about these children? Even the toddlers?

I can’t emphasize enough the fact that we simply cannot see this problem as a matter of lust -- after all, this is the argument used by rape apologists. We must understand that it is all about having power over women. In a world where patriarchy still dominates, a woman is still largely considered to be a mere instrument of reproduction.

The toxic mindset of considering a woman as a man’s property, or an object, is the root cause that needs to be addressed. Otherwise, there will be no end in sight to these vicious crimes.

Ratnadeep Toorja is a software programmer by profession, and a musician and writer by passion.

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