Time And Time Again, We Fail Them
By Ariane Kamdoum
So, recently I’ve been productively procrastinating on the internet (believe me it is possible to both procrastinate and be productive!) and, in my wanderings, I came across an article about a certain Brock Turner. The article stated that his life is being ruined (or close to it) according to a very sensible judge in the USA. Allow me to give you the most interesting details. The young man has been caught (RED HANDED) raping a girl and judge presiding over his case, being as SENSIBLE as they come, decided that a harsh sentence would negatively affect the life of poor Brock and instead gave him just some 6 months in prison. He couldn’t possibly punish him more for a “mere 20-minute error”! His words, not mine. I was just as repulsed as you are, take a deep breath and hopefully you won’t be throwing up.
I could have classified it as an isolated case, but it really wasn’t and it’s not going to be the last time. I’ve been reading too many articles, listening to too many stories and even witnessing some of those stories unfold before me to believe that this was an exception. These stories are not confined to one place of the world. Everywhere you go, you will find them. I daresay it’s the norm! So I decided to do some research. See, I need to have some rational explanations as to why sexual assaults on women are treated with such disregard? And lo and behold…. I found NOTHING! If someone has an explanation, a rational one, kindly let me know about it. I am on the brink of despair when it comes to understanding the reason of injustice towards women.
In the case of sexual assault on young women, we mainly have two types of negative reactions. First scenario is the poisonous advice of silence. Hush! Do. Not. Tell…ANYONE! How many times have we heard that sentence? Sometimes whispered, sometimes almost shouted. Nowadays, most of the time, I simply smile when I hear it. Why bother when we all know that most supersensitive, secret information is going to be revealed one way or another. Want to bet that it’ll probably be through social medias? It’s not a secret anymore: the human race doesn’t know how to keep a secret and the social media frenzy does not help. Did I drink ice cold water today? Let me tweet about the experience. Did I wake up in a very bad mood? Let me mention it on twitter. Wait, who did you say got married? Let me check her/his Facebook status and pictures. Whatever it is, name it, someone is going to post it on the internet. Gossip and self exposure have become the new normal. And I can’t throw the first stone; I like to call my “little” penchant for gossip: keeping tab on people (yes I do so swear it really is just little, no big deal). It sounds classier.
In the case of sexual assault though, you will not see any smile on my face when I hear that “advice”. There’s a 100% chance that you will see a facial expression showing my desire to do bodily harm to someone. Even though it’s hard to keep a secret, victims of assault tend to do it very well. Most of them become masters at pretending that it never happened. Do not talk about it and it will go away, seems to be a motto that they practice. The “Don’t tell anyone” admonishment in these cases still has meaning and is powerful, especially when it’s followed by a tangible threat. Have you ever heard about the threat of ridicule and shame? It is paralysing! We as human beings desperately want to be loved and accepted. I am not a psychologist but I dare to affirm that even the most cynical person on earth still needs that love and acceptance. You can try to prove me wrong, I consider myself fairly open minded, but some may disagree. I’ve seen too many lives destroyed by this sentence to believe it to be of little impact.
She shouldn’t tell because if she does, who will believe her? She is just going to put shame on the family, or she is going to destroy the life of the aggressor (this usually happens when he is a family member). And anyway it’s better that way. Why bother, the deed has already been done. Just move forward. “Wait! WHAT?” You might say. How can she believe such nonsense? Well, this poison, let us call it that, is usually administered by someone the victim trusts. So in her fragile state of mind she follows. Surely if that person said so, it must be true.
When a lady is strong enough to be open about what she’s gone through, we get the second type of reaction: an attack on her character. Because yes, “HOW DARE SHE? How dare she disturb our peace? How dare she make us uncomfortable? Who does she think she is to defy conventions? If she is this forthcoming, this eager to disturb, then surely she must be bad news? Anyway women have been known to lie about rape, surely she must be of the same brood?” That’s when the inquisition starts. “What was she wearing that day? Was she drunk? Was she flirty? Is she not one of those strong-headed girl? What was she doing out at that hour of the night? What was she doing at his place? Is there even rape, if the guy is her boyfriend/husband? Look at her body! She should have been more careful with those curves! Hiding them better!” If the victim fails to pass this scrutiny, she is GUILTY AS CHARGED. Case dismissed. It’s simple, to get sympathy the victim has to be perfect and the only perfect ones are those who are silent. And just so you know, the inquisitors are both men and women.
As a society, we fail to bring support and justice to victims of rape, and we fail to offer women around the world a safe environment. As a society we do not know how to handle sexual assault. It bothers us and we wish it went away. How will it go away when we refuse to adequately address it? We put the weight on women’s shoulder. Instead of telling men and boys what rape is and that it’s a NO-NO, instead of teaching them respect toward their female counterpart, we choose to teach girls and women how to avoid being raped. My father once told me that, to resolve an issue, you have to go to its roots. As a tree, rape has many roots. The root of rape is men and boys being told that it is ok to see women and their bodies as some disposable toy that they can use as they want. The root of rape is men everywhere considering that punishing a boy convicted of rape is going to ruin his life so better give him a slap on the wrists and move on. What about the victim’s life? The root of rape is us pointing fingers at a victim because she was not enough of a “good girl”. The root of rape is idolising music, movies and “artists” who continuously disrespect women. The root of rape is encouraging silence instead of breaking it. The root of rape is dehumanizing the victims especially those we label as “less than respectable ones” like women selling sex for money.
As a society and as individuals there is a lot we can do to end rape culture, but it’s not the easiest of paths. It takes a lot to acknowledge our failures and that our thinking pattern when it comes to rape is biased. It took many years for me to accept that I was biased. I would be compassionate toward one kind of victim, the one who seemed nice to me but disregard the one I couldn’t see myself associating with. I was readily an inquisitor and did not even know it. It took harsh discussions and honest research to accept that NONE of the victims deserved to be assaulted; that there was no “perfect” victim. It starts with a hard look at ourselves in the mirror without our conventional eye-glasses. It starts with our being loving towards one another and not condemning. Less Pharisees, more Jesus- like; he was (in)famous for welcoming all kinds of sinners and people rejected by his society.
Teaching women how to avoid rape is just putting band-aid on a festering wound. Nevertheless, I will make sure that any young girl under my care, be it my daughter or not, will know some ninja moves and how to efficiently use them. Trust me, my place will be the equivalent of a boot camp! I will make sure she is confident enough to say “NO” to any smooth talker who wants to “sweetly take advantage”, because guess what? Rape isn’t always violent. I will make sure she is confident enough and deeply rooted enough in my unconditional love for her that she’ll be able to tell me everything! I will make sure my son(s) or any boy I’m in charge of knows how to be a true gentlemen and never disrespect anyone, especially girls and women, else he won’t be able to use his backside for at least 2 weeks.
I hope you decide to take a step or further step towards ending rape culture. Meanwhile I will keep praying, and do my best to work towards a better world.