No end in sight for victim blaming

In some cases, shaming and unfair judgement even inflicts re-traumatisation of sexual assaults on the victims

pic by AFP

WE ARE living in a paradox. While there’s a global #MeToo movement mobilised to fight sexual harassment, everyday sexism is normalised and internalised.

The message from the #MeToo movement, however, has not hit home yet, judging by the recent ordeals of harassment reported by women. By now, most of us are already weary of reports of yet another enforcement officer harassing and making sexual advances to unsuspecting female drivers at roadblocks.

Perhaps, the most lewd if not worse reported was when a police officer asked a female driver if she’s wearing her brassiere and to reveal her breasts in an exchange for not issuing summons for failing to carry her driving licence.

What else could be a greater violation of public trust than police officers’ roadblock sexual harassment soap operas? Actually, there is.

The innate culture of our society is to jump on victim-blaming and says it’s somehow the fault of the victims for the action of the offender. In fact, that is exactly what most Malaysian netizens proved when the video of the victim recounting her harrowing harassment went viral.

Many social media users (both women and men) took to Twitter, WhatsApps and Facebook, criticising her with comments such as “it’s her fault for failing to dress appropriately”, “she asked for it”, “this is not western country” and “I won’t blame the officer for what he did”, among others. Such online shaming at minimum trivialises the victim’s genuine experiences and at worse, silences the victims forever.

In some cases, such shaming and unfair judgement even inflicts re-traumatisation of sexual assaults on the victims. And yet, we often drag the old mental frames about the victim’s appropriate behaviour and dressing during the time of harassment, rather than focusing on what the perpetrator actually did.

If our society fails to recognise that it was a clear case of police misconduct and abuse of power in a roadblock, something is wired fundamentally wrong here. The truth of the matter is, no matter how modestly a woman chooses to dress or how not-modestly she chooses to dress, some will still conveniently make excuses for the offender at the expense of ostracising a woman.

The problem evidently lies in centuries of entrenched patriarchy that somehow we have knowingly and unknowingly succumbed into.

It starts from birth when girls are told to behave appropriately, while boys are allowed to live by the tiring trope of “boys will be boys”. This double standard is further compounded by decades of failures of policymakers, and politicians to committedly advocate woman-centric causes.

A prime classic example would be the “Doraemon voice advice” posted by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to appease husbands in lockdown, when many NGOs were fuming on the delay of the Sexual Harassment Bill in Parliament.

Let’s also not forget the infamous sexist comments made by lawmakers in Parliament that further denigrated and dismissed women’s power and authority. For example, when Kinabatangan MP Datuk Seri Bung Moktar Radin said to DAP MP Fong Po Kuan that she “leaks every month”, in reference to women’s menstrual cycle while debating on roof leak issue in Parliament.

Yes, many progresses have been made in upholding women’s rights since then, but is that enough? Shouldn’t we all feel safe driving home at night without having to worry about an enforcement officer stopping you and making demands? Should we not owe it to our daughters, nieces, girlfriends clad in T-shirts, sarees, baju kurungs and sports attire to feel safe too?

It almost has become too convenient to blame victims from a distance when the victims are not related to us until they are one of our own. By which time it’s too late and it’s your turn to take online flak for not dressing appropriately.

Priya Vasu is the assistant news editor at The Malaysian Reserve.