TW: mention of sexual assault
“For anybody whose once normal everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence– the trauma, the terror, can shatter you long after one horrible attack. It lingers. You don’t know where to go or who to turn to…and people are more suspicious of what you were wearing or what you were drinking, as if it’s your fault, not the fault of the person who assaulted you…We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should. We make excuses, we look the other way…[Laws] won’t be enough unless we change the culture that allows assault to happen in the first place.”
- Former US President Barack Obama, September 2014
Survivors of sexual assault face deeply rooted stigma. Be it at a personal level, within the family, within community, at an institutional level and even in the judicial system. Many widespread misconceptions fuel the feelings of guilt and shame which often discourage victims from talking about their experience!
Survivors of sexual assault are on the receiving end of society's contempt which leads to social rejection in many cases. Myths about rape may lead to stigmatization of victims, prevent disclosure of assault, prevent builds hesitancy in seeking help and worsen mental health.
What are rape myths? Rape myths are prejudicial, stereotyped, and false beliefs about sexual assaults, rapists, and rape victims. They often serve to excuse sexual aggression, create hostility toward victims, and bias in criminal prosecution.[Burt, Martha R. (February 1980)] Beliefs in such rape myths ensure the average acceptance of sexual victimization. Acceptance of rape myths in any community is related with stigma and mental illness associated with trauma of sexual assault survivors. All of this adds up to the psychological and social burden of trauma.
It's not just word play anymore
X was raped by Y
Y raped X
In today's world of fast-paced journalism and quick reporting, a simple change in the order of stating an incident can go further than it first appears to be. In the first headline, the victim is the subject of the sentence where all the attention is put on them resulting in the intensification of shame associated with being assaulted.
While in the second headline, the perpetrator is highlighted in the subject and that narrates a completely different discourse altogether! The narrative changes when the spotlight is on the victim in most reports of sexual assault and that further intensifies the social pressure faced by the victim. The perpetrator though punished by law (well, most of the times) does not suffer any blemish in their reputation since there has been a long standing belief that sexual assault is the fault of the victim. IT IS NEVER THE VICTIM’S FAULT!
Was I too sexy for you?
What are the elements that make an individual vulnerable to sexual assault? Despite constant arguing; our society finds it very difficult to understand that sexual assault has nothing to do with how the victim was dressed, behaved and spoke and everything to do with the violent mindset of the perpetrator. NO! She is not asking for it because her dress is shorter than usual. NO! She isn't asking for it if she is laughing at something you said! NO! She is definitely not asking for it if she is drunk and can't respond! Rape is violence, violence against individuals who then have to suffer through the trauma caused by it.
The cycle continues, day after day, accounts of shame keep on adding each time the individual recalls the sexual abuse and the sense of powerlessness. The cycle continues since more than the individual's mental health, their physical condition and social standing is considered more important post assault. The victim's mental and emotional violation is often overlooked.
This stigma is partly based on the misconception that sexual violence is degrading for the victim, not for the attacker. The burden of shame is thus borne by the victims: men and women who are considered to be defiled. Whose honour is considered to be lost. “Women risk not being able to marry, while men, their virility undermined, suffer unabated stigma and shame.”
People blame the victim to distance themselves from the unpleasant event and thereby attest their own invulnerability to this risk. In order to see themselves different from the victim, people label and blame the victim. People reassure themselves by thinking, "Because I do not behave/speak/dress like them, because I do not do anything they do, this could never happen to me." One needs to understand that this is not a helpful reaction.
To the reader:
If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you deserve to live fully and not be held down by the shackles of society’s prejudices. You deserve to heal and love yourself!