Victim shaming and blaming

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Sexual violence remains one of the most controversial subjects around the world. The controversial nature of sexual assaults and disputed opinions surrounding the topic has further fueled the sexual abuse taboo. Besides all the taboo surrounding the subject, the most ironic thing about sexual harassment cases is the attitude towards the victims of sexual assault. The aftermath of such an event involves more victim shaming than harasser shaming. This disgruntled attitude towards the victim is prominent in sexual violence cases all around the world. People use commonly held myths, cultural beliefs, and gender roles as a basis to justify victim blame.

Individual, situational, institutional and societal factors are highly influential in increasing victim-blaming tendencies. Individual factors which include endorsement of gender roles, cultural beliefs, and political attitude blind one’s vision to empathize with the victim; situational and institutional factors such as victim’s socio-economic status, sexual history, and social media, provide people content and enable an environment where victim blaming is nurtured. With these factors serving as measuring elements to gauge victim’s involvement in inciting incidences of sexual harassment, it has become easier for people to justify victim shaming.

Be it the seven-year-old Zainab or Meesha Shafi, a famous singer and actor, people leave no stone unturned to hold the victim and her family responsible for sexual assault. While Meesha Shafi’s allegation of sexual harassment against Ali Zafar was looked at as a stunt to get fame, Zainab’s case put her parents in the limelight for not protecting their children enough. Such accusation hardly comes on the way of a rapist and harasser. The accusations of this nature say a lot about the patriarchal origin of the idea of victim blaming.

Meesha, Zainab, and Urooj are pointed fingers at because the majority of the population in this country follow the myth that bad things happen to bad people. Women in this case come under the category of bad people, whose nonconformist attitude is marked as an attribute that has caused such unfortunate events. For a woman to be assertive in a patriarchal society means defying gender roles, which automatically put women in the category of “unladylike” women who must have “asked for it”.

Not only victims of sexual assault go through character shaming in the process of coming forward with sexual assault allegations, but also they also face threats from the assailants, and mostly are accused of being liars. The non-serious and negative attitude from people towards a victim is a huge deterrent that prevents women to come forward with sexual harassment cases.

Sexual assaults, especially those involving an acquaintance are rarely reported in Pakistan. Meesha Shafi’s case at the moment is a trailblazer, which has paved the way for people who have been hindered through societal pressure to come forward. While this brave step of Meesha Shafi has earned her the support of many people, but since the alleged harasser is also a celebrity, myriads of individuals questioned her credibility and slander her character.

Patriarchal institutions are a root cause of this perpetual victim shaming culture. In a patriarchal society such as ours, women are socialized into endorsing their gender roles, which for them also include being submissive to men. While, men, on the other hand, are trained to endorse toxic masculine characteristics, which entails maintaining their sexually aggressive behavior. These gender roles in the cases of sexual assault translate into women being more prone to sexual assaults and normalize victim blaming, and men legitimizing the victimization. Society, instead of holding men more responsible for their actions, point fingers at women for coming across such an incident. Such behavior towards men’s actions perpetuates the culture of nullifying their actions based on the general belief that “men will be men”.

Another toxic practice that leads to the acceptance of victim blaming is the hypersexualization and objectification of women. The sexualized representation of women in different social media domains portrays them as sexual objects to fulfill men’s desires. Movies in which incidents of rape are romanticized influence people’s view of incidents of rape. Such clips present victim as an inciter, who through her clothing invites trouble onto herself, and depicts rapist as someone with solely sexual motivation. Depictions as such portray the victim as the cause of her victimization and hence encourage victim blaming.

The discourse on sexual assault and victims in Pakistan blur the idea of consent and marital rape. Internalized misogyny and patriarchal norms have made it hard for women to take action against men and resist aggressive behavior from men. The encouragement of victim shaming in various physical and digital platforms has made it normative for men to commit sexual crimes and get away with it. This could be changed if we let go of the myths surrounding victims and focus on the harasser and his history of sexual crimes than focusing on the sexual history of the victim.

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Hatoon Gul is a Turbat based YES alumna studying Social Development and Policy at Habib University, Karachi.

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