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Understanding sexual violence: Beyond the discourse of victim-blaming

It has nothing to do with how one dresses as is evident from Victorian era women being sexually assaulted in the streets of Great Britain Photograph: (Others)

WION Bengaluru, Karnataka, India Jan 10, 2017, 07.57 AM (IST) Ashok G.V.

Bengaluru, the IT hub of India, woke up to the rather unpleasant news of many women reporting being sexually harassed during the new years celebrations at Brigade Road/Church Street. What followed was a series of unfortunate events, where the state’s home minister and politician Abu Azmi of Samajwadi Party blamed poverty of conservative clothing and conservative values as the cause of these crimes against women on new years eve. 

 

I believe no useful purpose is served by labelling women and indulging in name calling. 

 

Let us, therefore, assume that these are reasonable men, driven to mistake simply because of ignorance. Mr. Azmi and Karnataka’s Home Minister, Mr. Parameshwar are victims of stereotypes we have created and nurtured over time. 

 

Let us, therefore, make an effort to place the right information before them and hope, based on our positive assumptions, that they will change their opinions for the better at the end of this exercise.

 

Egyptian women were at liberty to wear short skirts and, yet there were no incidences of widespread sexual harassment
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The Egyptian Center for Women Rights study revealed that as on 2008, nearly 83 per cent of Egyptian Women had reported sexual harassment, out of which at least 50 per cent had endured sexual harassment on a daily basis. 

 

In his article titled “Egypt’s Problem with Women”, acclaimed Egyptian author Ala Al Aswany describes how, during the time before the influx of conservative Wahhabi ideology (which prescribes a strict dress code for women) Egyptian women were at liberty to wear short skirts and, yet there were no incidences of widespread sexual harassment. 

 

Wary of the current trend of sexual abuse, Al Aswany concludes with these words, “Why is it that men did not harass Egyptian women when they wore short skirts but that sexual harassment has increased against women in head scarves? When ultraconservative doctrine dehumanizes women, reducing them to objects, it legitimizes acts of sexual aggression against them.” 

 

To demolish the unscientific responses of Mr. Azmi and Mr. Parameshwar, it is necessary to first understand that sexual assault, including penetrative sexual assault is different from consensual sexual intercourse. The dynamics governing the two are grossly different. Sexual violence differs from consensual sexual intercourse, in as much as the former is exclusively about violence and the latter is exclusively about sex.

 

Sexual assault is clinically understood as a pseudo sexual act that serves non-sexual needs. These non-sexual needs revolve around power, anger, vulnerability and control. 

 

In the study undertaken by Nicholas Groth on sex offenders, it emerged that significant numbers of these offenders experienced sexual dysfunction. Many such offenders were in consensual sexual relationships, even as they indulged in sexual assaults against unwilling victims. 

 

Thus, sexual desire does not necessarily not lead to rape. Groth concludes that it is not sexual pleasure and satisfaction that leads to recidivism among sex offenders, but it is desperation. That desperation according to Groth, is founded upon the offender looking to sexual activity to gratify a need or resolve an issue that is basically not sexual.

 

Until recently, the Indian understanding of sexual assault was that it is a western phenomenon, a phenomenon which is a product of a decadent culture devoid of moral values. 

 

But then, “Taharrush” occurred in Germany during the 2016 new year celebrations. In imitation of the Arab “rape game”, known as  “Taharrush”, a group Caucasian women were accosted by groups of men of Asian origin and subjected to gang assaults. 

 

Stories of honour killing are far from rare among Indian communities. The harassment and fear that our women endure in our own countries as a result of this toxic culture of patriarchy is already well know.  

 

Men from our part of the world (Asia) have proven that their endorsement of patriarchy and their sense of entitlement is independent of western influences and when challenged by the inherent strength of women in our world, we respond by asserting power through sexual aggression. 

 

Therefore, the argument that a woman’s choice of attire led to rape, operates on the erroneous assumption that the offender felt attracted to the victim, resulting in lust and then rape. But we already know that lust and rape have nothing to do with each other. But we know that rape has a lot to do with power, anger, vulnerability and control. That is why we have, in our experience, seen that victims can be very young or very old, male or female. 

 

When we choose to blame choice of attire or even gender as causing rape, then we forget about the woman in burqa who is eve teased at the bus stop
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When we choose to blame choice of attire or even gender as causing rape, then we forget about the woman in burqa who is eve teased at the bus stop. What about the little girl in diapers who was sexually abused by her father for years? What about the teenager who was sexually abused by his school teacher in school?  Are we not undermining their experiences with sexual violence?

 

Victim blaming is not only unwarranted by law and morally deplorable. It is a product of ignorance. 

 

Victim blaming will not provide crime prevention strategies. It will certainly not answer the question of what can be done next new years to prevent this from reoccurring. What bothers me about victim blaming most, however, is that we have been doing it for centuries and it hasn’t helped solve the problem. Yet we repeat the mistakes of forefathers and hope for a different outcome? Madness, anybody? 

 

Victim blaming is not only unwarranted by law and morally deplorable. It is a product of ignorance
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So how about, at least for the sake of variety if not common sense, that we try and apply our minds and solve this problem properly. We owe it to ourselves and our women. 

 

Make no mistake, what happened on new years eve in Bengaluru is not a blot on the women, it is a blot on us. And if anyone’s character is questionable at the moment, it is ours as a society. How we respond to this challenge will define if we are cowardly and stupid and therefore traditional or if we are courageous and intelligent and therefore creative.

Ashok G.V.

Ashok G.V. is an advocate with Factum Law.

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