A lot of readers are likely to avoid this article after taking a glimpse at the title. They will probably think "Does this concern me?" Many might think that they are being responsible citizens and this will never happen to them. On the other hand, the remaining readers who would read this piece and raise their voice against oppression are likely to be silenced by society. This is exactly where the problem lies.
At least four women have been raped everyday in Bangladesh amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Ain o Salish Kendra, an organisation that offers legal assistance to rape victims stated that men raped 975 women, killed 43 among them after raping, and attempted to rape in 204 other cases from January to September this year. Needless to say, the numbers will be higher if the numerous other unreported cases are included.
A widespread outrage took over the country several weeks ago after a video of a middle-aged woman in the southern district of Noakhali being assaulted by some perpetrators broke into internet. The government responded to the citizens by administering a death penalty to the rape assaulters. But the question remains, is it enough to stop this crime? Does it have the potential to fundamentally eradicate the notion of rape among the previous and prospective perpetrators?
The death penalty is essentially a mechanism of scaring the rapists away, but the assaulters know how to discover loopholes. Most importantly, the majority of them do not even understand why their actions demand the said punishment. So this article is what the nationals of Bangladesh can do to eradicate the violent mentality.
There are still people throughout the country who first ask what attire the victim wears during the crime. The question persists-- "Did the woman try her best to uphold the honour that was bestowed upon her?" If not, the assault is a punishment for her act of disgrace. As long as this parochial thought process embraces the Bangladeshi society, rape won't stop.
How to change this mindset
It is imperative for people to spare a minute to understand the definition of 'victim.' According to Cambridge Dictionary, a victim is someone or something that has been hurt, damaged, or killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else, or because of illness or chance. This statement shows no implication of the victim's action being a causative agent of any form of harmful incident. People ought to understand this concept and explain it to others surrounding them. They can begin from teaching their children as change takes time and it is best to attempt implementing the change from the beginning. It is high time people comprehended that the term 'victim-blaming' is redundant as a victim is already the recipient of the damage.
Classification of rape victims
According to section 375 of the Penal Code 1860, rape is mentioned as a gender specific crime- by a male against a female, who is not his wife. The rape law sets fourteen as the statutory age of consent, which basically means that a man's sexual intercourse with a girl who is not his wife under the age of fourteen is a crime as she is incapable of consenting. This is astonishing. Do the girls who are just over 14 understand what consent is?
The aforementioned law also clearly states that marital rape is a criminal activity only if the wife is under the age of thirteen. So any married female above this age in Bangladesh has no legal right to make a personal choice about her body which should be a basic human right. Finally, section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 gives permission to defence lawyers to rescue the perpetrator by proving that the rape complainant is of 'general immoral character' which further undermines the plaintiff's credibility in court. What constitutes a 'general immoral character' and how? If the legislation of a country allows lawyers to place the victim on trial as opposed to the assaulter, this explains why it is easy for the rapists to get away with their actions.
How can you fight back
The simple answer is women empowerment. Parents must start empowering their girls from homes, teaching them to raise their voice against any form of oppression. Women in Bangladesh rarely retaliate, since they are taught to tolerate wrongdoings from a young age. Failure to do otherwise makes them less womanly. But abuse and violence do not conform to gender and hence women should stop aligning their response to the expected social norm. Additionally, educating boys about respecting women, especially focusing on how their behaviour towards women should be, is equally important.
What can the government do?
The government should conduct mass investment in relevant education in schools because children tend to learn about physical matters from someone or something outside the family. The representation of the story, from friends and websites, is often unrealistic and incorrect, which leads to the development of such sadistic behaviour. The government should also initiate widespread campaigns to consistently educate families about rape and other forms of sexual violence. Above all, reforms in the laws, along with, extensive communication about why the law needed change will reach milestones in changing the mindset of people regarding rape. A similar example would be the amendments made in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, where the definition of rape was made concrete, including different types of rape, and consent was legalised.
What can the media do?
The media should start changing the construction of its headlines and sentences regarding rape. Instead of writing 'a girl' got raped, where the girl is placed as the subject, the structure should be reversed, making the boy the active subject of the sentence. This is important since the boy or the man then will be the one directly committing the action and to a significant extent, this will subconsciously shift the blame away from the female to the male.
A collaborative effort is the only solution to the rape endemic. How difficult should it be for people to understand that stealing someone's right to consent is a crime?
The writer is a third year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. She can be reached at [email protected]