Safety and Sexual Abuse

Picture2Our culture perpetuates a number of attitudes towards sexual abuse, without our knowledge, but with our help . These exacerbate the problem and complicate the process of solving it. Shaming and blaming victims, body-policing, et cetera, are a symptom of these attitudes, and the underlying flawed understanding of sexual abuse. Much has been said about this, and yet it remains important to say more: social attitudes towards sexuality and sexual abuse control how women live their lives, every minute of every day. In this regard, I’d say the situation in India is especially bad.

A lot of things work together to give rise to the problem, and the first of them is that we assign responsibility for preventing abuse to the victim. In the case of India, girls grow up learning that men are going to stare if you wear skirts that are too short, because that’s what men do. We learn that rape is wrong, and that rapists are cruel, but we’re also told that it is the victim who has to live with the consequences of rape. We treat sexual abuse as a consequence of the inevitable presence of evil people in the world, instead of treating it as a systemic problem. So we grow up believing that the only way to prevent sexual abuse is to ensure that girls keep themselves safe.

Way too many parents in India teach their children to not “attract too much attention”, in real life and in social media. Some parents micromanage their girls’ lives to make sure they aren’t putting themselves in any kind of danger. We tell our girls not to stay out late and put them in separate passenger-cars on trains. We insist that they be accompanied by trusted male-members if they’re traveling, or going someplace we consider “unsafe”. We do all of this with the best intentions.

We are, however, doing nothing to rectify a system that has led so many men to feel the need to assert dominance through gruesome acts. We haven’t done much to modify a system that has hyper-sexualized and objectified women to a point where a woman’s body has become her greatest hinderance; something that needs to be covered and presented a certain way to prevent its violation. We’re addressing the problem from the wrong end. Rape is a systemic problem; it isn’t something some evil men do to provocatively-clad women.

This post has nothing novel to offer; it’s just an effort to join the conversation and perhaps, encourage some others to, too. It is important that we begin having this conversation on a larger scale. It is important that young people in our country are taught the meaning and importance of consent. It is important that we stop putting off the uncomfortable conversations, like we have done for so many years. It is important that we teach individuals to think for themselves, to empathize and be compassionate. Education isn’t a quick fix, but it is the only fix. It is the only way to slay the monster, and it needs us all to work together.


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