By Benish Saleem
“You should think twice before travelling alone at night”. “You should have taken the busier road instead”. Why did you leave the home without a male family member? “Well, Pakistan is not a safe country to travel alone for women.”
These are the remarks made by a lead investigator of the police when a woman was gang raped in front of her children on a motorway, as her car ran out of fuel and she was waiting for help.
The disappointing remarks have led to a countrywide outrage, further fuelled by demonstrations by human rights activists, who demand serious punishment for culprits. The posters, placards and banners all have empowering messages written on them. One of the placards has particularly caught my attention, written on it was, “Shatter the silence, End the violence “.
The recommendations suggested by the chief of Police do not endorse so. Infact, it will silence the victims further and will give rise to the culture of fear, shame and embarrassment. The saddest part is not the “remarks” that were made, but the immediacy by which the blame was inferred implicitly on a woman, suggesting that she brought it to herself. A stereotypical response from the high profile security official was not expected at this stage but is not shocking either. This is the culture of victim blaming in action that unravels more depressing and overpowering facts of women contempt and blame in cases of rape and sexual violence.
Blame is often perpetrated upon women after crimes of sexual and physical abuse occur as according to the fortune tellers aka police of Pakistan, all sexual crimes, minor or major can be prevented completely if women follow a simple code of conduct, which primarily includes not leaving the house at all. An unintelligent, but well intended and probably life saving advice that is often given freely to the victims after a crime is committed is both contemptuous and subtle in nature that often times, a victim finds herself blaming and contemplating what would have prevented the misfortune to happen to her.
It is vital to understand that a rape simply can not be caused by someone’s poor choices or taking risks of driving alone at night. These are all rational things and do not need to be justified. Secondly, when you give remarks like that, you are trivializing the crime of an offender. You are actually liberating him to continue, and low key initiating a dangerous trend of self blame and victim blaming in society. Rape is not consensual; neither any amount of precautions can prevent it from happening. It is entirely on the perpetrators, how, when and where they will find their targets. So, blaming a woman for being at the wrong place is adding an insult to an injury and displaces the violence and over look the cruel crime committed.
The societal narratives that women need to conform to, in order to avoid any physical harm do not need to be reinforced in our society. Suggestions what could have been done or changed within the women or their actions to save them from traumas are psychologically hardwired so it is not easy to root out. Even in day to day’s life, a man’s anger, harassment, coercion, shouting and beating directed at woman can be tackled by bringing slight changes in woman’s behaviour. “Splendid”. Right?
Abolish the phenomenon of victim blaming. This unfortunate trend reflects the sick mentality a harmful and damaging factor for the civilised society.
A highly misogynistic society, with tons of male violence against women in so many forms do not need further oppression and abuse of women, levied by such statements. No one has control over whether they become victims of crime or not, so assigning the responsibility of a crime to the perpetrators and focussing less on women’s behaviour and actions is very important. The situational blame, by being logical about how the women should not end up in certain situations will have a silencing effect on other rape victims.
Already, the under reporting of sexual crimes is prevalent and by minimising the actions of assailants and placing the blame on women, we will encourage impunity. No one has a right to threaten, harm, destroy, abuse and control anyone no matter what situation, or a place the victim is in. The language use by the Police (in such cases specifically) shall not construct the narrative of victim blaming. Instead, it should be free from any derogatory, demeaning and advisory remarks and in all cases hold the perpetrators accountable for the crimes committed.
(The writer is a journalism student at University of London Birkbeck and is an active member of university’s student union). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)