Changing the Social Perspective — The Need to Re-script the Narrative of Sexual Violence
Ironic as it seems
The cleavage and not the groping hands
The short hemline and not the staring eyes
The vagina beholders and not the penis perpetrators
Sexual violence is defined as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.
Since, we as beings were meant to be boundless and infinite, our world doesn’t abide by the definitions it carves- the trauma of sexual assault goes beyond the assault itself. It’s not the physical pain but the mental torture that a victim is subjected to, which places her at the receiving end of assault: assault by the society, assault by medical institutions, assault by the legal system; she’s a victim to the ideas and actions of the very institutions she looked up to for respite.
Like it or lump it, the truth is that we as a society promote rape culture. I wouldn’t be shocked if I overheard the following words “When girls forget their limits, are boys to be blamed? Boys will be boys.” Unfortunately, the burden of modesty and decency is placed only on the shoulders of the feminine gender while their male counterparts are not bound by any principles.
Nirbhaya was raped in December 2012, India while returning home after watching a movie with her fiance.
“A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. Housework and housekeeping are for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes,”- Mukesh Singh, one of Nirbhaya’s rapists.
The idea that women are supposed to dress ‘modestly’, that women should cover themselves and not reveal ‘provocative’ parts of their body is so ingrained in our society that it is almost believed that she’s welcoming sexual assault if she fails to conform to these standards imposed on her, that she is responsible for being raped, that she is the one who ‘excited’ the men. Often these arguments are used to justify a rapist’s actions.
What we need to question is why are bare breasts and not bare chests ‘provocative’? Why do the legs under a skirt turn men’s heads around while there is absolutely nothing sexually exciting about a man in shorts? How do you justify the rape of a six-month-old baby- was it her arms, the size of the rapist’s penis that excited him or was it her vagina, the size of this masculinity that provoked him?
We as a society have trained our daughters to be submissive, to be invisible and to shy away from letting their sexuality bloom. However, we as a society never taught boys the same. Their sexual drive is justified, a girl’s is not. This is where the problem lies.
Madhumita Pandey, a 26-year-old who interviewed 100 rapists in the Tihar jail explains this- “When I went to research, I was convinced that these men are monsters. But when you talk to them, you realize these are not extraordinary men, they are really ordinary. What they’ve done is because of their upbringing and thought process.”
Further, women are put down by the weight of carrying their families’ honour. The fact that the virginity of a woman is the measure of her worth, a measure of her ‘purity’ and that loss of virginity of a woman before marriage is a shame for her family, often incumbents victims to remain silent about their assault. In her research, Madhumita Pandey recorded the following testimonial of a perpetrator who raped a five-year-old child- “Yes I feel bad, I ruined her life. Now she is no longer a virgin, no one would marry her. I would accept her, I will marry her when I come out of jail.” This clearly sheds light on the mindset of the society- rape ruins the life of the victim, she is the one who is helpless, the one who is weak and vulnerable. The Rapist? Well, he can marry his victim, as a favour, as a reparation!
Stricter laws? Death Penalty? These are merely ways to elope from the issue of sexual violence. We as a society need to teach our daughters that they are not responsible for being sexually violated, that they are not the ones who should be ashamed and that they should not sustain the torture silently. They have the right to their bodies, the right to dress the way they want to and travel wherever and whenever they want to, without fear, without shame. Nevertheless, the only way we as a society can instill this confidence among our girls is by raising boys in households where their sisters are as empowered as them and their mothers as empowered as their fathers; where choice is not exclusively a privilege for men; where they are taught the importance of consent and respect. A change in mindset is the solution, for no one is born a rapist- let’s not create them.
Sara Sethia is a Research Associate (Gender Justice) at One Future Collective.
Featured image: Chris Barbalis