The Other Side of Survivors of Sexual Violence We Never Talk About
What is Sexual Violence? According to the WHO, Sexual Violence is- “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”.
To begin with, here’s a scenario:
A bigshot sexually harasses his employee or subordinates for years, (worst case scenario, rapes or repeatedly rapes) and hushes it up by various means. On the other hand, the same bigshot enjoys a high social standing making such reports about his misbehaviour unbelievable and thrown aside as nonsense.
How do you react when such stories that seem like a Hollywood affair makes the headline?
When the sexual violence is acted out by someone of authority or boss for that matter, it gets more complicated as to whom we should believe. Add delayed reporting to the story, and that makes it all the more difficult as the biggest question is- Why did he/she endure it for so long? Why not report sooner?
In an elaborate article- Why Don’t Victims of Sexual Harassment Come Forward Sooner? by Dr Beverly Engel, a psychotherapist, eight reasons are cited for not reporting early, one being- fear of retaliation, ‘… Sexual harassers frequently threaten the lives, jobs, and careers of their victims. And many victims are frightened by the perpetrator’s position of power and what he could do with it.’
Dr Beverly added further that the delay is also because the victim feels invaded and defiled, while simultaneously experiencing the indignity of being helpless and at the mercy of another person.
Often times, when we hear of such alleged rape cases, we tend to blame or scrutinise the victim saying it could be a revenge- from a relationship gone sour to doing it for money, the list just goes on. However, you would be surprised to find that only an estimated 2 to 8 per cent of rape cases are fabricated. Professor Robert T Muller in Rape Victims’ Reactions Misunderstood by Law Enforcement cites that ‘Rape is unlike most other criminal offenses. The credibility of the victim is often on trial as much as the guilt of the assailant, despite the fact that false rape accusations are rare.’
He further writes – ‘On average, 90 per cent of victims are subject to at least one secondary victimization in their first encounter with the justice system. Victimization includes discouraging victims from pursuing the case, telling them it’s not serious enough, and asking about their appearance or any actions that may have provoked the assault.’
The second victimization mentioned by Prof Robert T Muller (the first victimization being by the rapist) also seems to include each of us, the society as a whole and not the justice system alone.
Another article published by the NY Times – Why Women Can Take Years to Come Forward With Sexual Assault Allegations cites that when the perpetrator is someone they trusted, it can take years for victims even to identify what happened to them as a violation.
To qualify for the act as ‘sexual assault’ or ‘rape’, the victim is supposed to fight back! And that is something they question- ‘When people are mugged or robbed, they are not asked why they did not resist. But in sexual assault cases, failure to resist can be one of the biggest sticking points for jurors. Often both sides acknowledge that a sex act occurred, and the question is whether it was consensual. Fighting back is viewed as an easy litmus test. But women are conditioned not to use violence.’
But here, let’s look at the forms and contexts of sexual violence listed by WHO:
- rape within marriage or dating relationships;
- rape by strangers;
- systematic rape during armed conflict;
- unwanted sexual advances or sexual harassment, including demanding sex in return for favours;
- sexual abuse of mentally or physically disabled people;
- sexual abuse of children;
- forced marriage or cohabitation, including the marriage of children;
- denial of the right to use contraception or to adopt other measures to protect against sexually transmitted diseases;
- forced abortion;
- violent acts against the sexual integrity of women, including female genital mutilation and obligatory inspections for virginity;
- forced prostitution and trafficking of people for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
According to the BBC, (Why Don’t Rape and Sexual Assault Victims Come Forward) survivors often find it confusing to recognise sexual assault because ‘The persistent stereotype of ‘real rape’ involves a male stranger who violently penetrates a resisting woman in a public place…’ But this is true for the masses too because when we do not see that the sexual assault doesn’t fall into this narrative, we paint the case with our own judgements.
These reasons cited above is based on the cases in Western countries, from societies far advanced and more forward-thinking than us, our community in particular. If survivors of sexual violence are still faced with such challenges there, how more difficult would/must be for survivors in our community to come out to us? A small community of few lakhs where most people have noses with 360 degrees coverage, have you ever wondered how we victimise the victim thousand times in a day?
As a closely-knit community where our customary and religious laws largely govern, the recent news on the alleged rape case of a renowned Tangkhul celebrity comes as a shocker. But what we must remember here is that we are not here to put to trial the credibility of the victim. We must respect the fact that not all survivors come out, and not all take the same path- some choose to move on, some closes deal behind closed doors, but this? The victim is taking it to the court, fully aware of the mud slings she would get from all of us. Surely, this must amount to something.
To us, may we be empathic; To survivors, I hope you are on your road to recovery- You are not alone.