In almost every case of abuse, assault or rape in Bangladesh, many people tend to focus on a victim’s actions and reputation, rather than the criminal and criminality. A victim, especially of sexual assault, is automatically judged by an invisible people’s court, just like the version of Medusa, a mythical character.
As told by Greek poet Hesiod about Medusa in a poem of his in the 8th century BC, she was a beautiful woman devoted to war goddess Athena, the rival of sea god Poseidon. To humiliate his rival, Poseidon violated Medusa at the shrine of Athena’s Temple. But, instead of punishing the criminal Poseidon, Athena blamed and cursed the victim Medusa, then turned her into a horrible snake-hair monster despite seeking forgiveness for a crime she was a victim of!
The most frightening thing is that victim-blaming culture exists in reality too. And in Bangladesh, it is quite common.
On the rape of a Viqurunnisa Noon School and College student a few years back, a female teacher came forward to defend the accused, Porimol Joydhor. The incident was even described as consensual sex.
Women are constantly subjected to victim-shaming and examples include the recent incidents of Murari Chand (MC) College rape and Noahkhali sexual assault that had shaken the country. Still comments like “Why was the couple around the collage at night?”, and “What was she wearing?” surfaced on the social media platforms.
Most people would blame uneducated people for getting access to social media and spreading victim-blaming messages. But the educated families that understand the victim is not at fault, still compel her to keep quiet, as they are aware that society will always choose to find fault with the victim.
Founder of Oroddho Health, a peer-to-peer online mental health service, Awsaf Karim says, “No child is born as a judgmental individual, rather the child adopts an attitude based on what he or she perceives in society while growing up. Since the Bangladesh society is patriarchal at its core, people are taught to believe from an early age that the ‘honour’ of a woman lies in her reproductive system. This practice is also common in India and Pakistan. Thus, the core of victim blaming starts from childhood”.
The other side of the coin
Often male ‘victims’ of rape and abuse tend to be ignored and be a subject of mockery by the patriarchal society. There are allegations of misuse of law to protect the offender of cases of rape, sexual assault, and violence. Whereas most female victims find it hard to get justice, protection of offenders or ignoring the issue of male ‘victims’ makes victims' position in general more vulnerable.
A male victim privately told this author, “Male ‘victims’ are often treated in a very different manner in most cases. When I opened up about my assault, it was taken as a joke and I was questioned about my masculinity. Authorities didn’t bother filing my abuse report and played it off as a minor issue to prevent hassles for both my family and the authorities.”
Bangladesh is yet to find any effective ways and means to get rid of rape and victim-blaming culture. A key problem is the tendency of making sweeping remarks once there is an incident. Some others join the gossips of blaming the victim, a practice which is reflected on social media.
Until people themselves challenge the patriarchal mindset, the Greek myth of Medusa will continue to reoccur in reality.
Afrida Kiswar Esha is a third-year BBA student of management at the University of Chittagong.