Victim-blaming and shaming needs to stop

I read an article today on Al Jazeera English about a brutal gang rape of a young university student in India. She was brutally beaten and raped by several men. She is now in critical condition. Her companion was also assaulted and is recovering in the hospital. There is little one can say on something horrible like this. No words can express how depressing, infuriating and sickening it is to read stories like this. I pray for this young woman’s recovery and that justice is done for all victims.

Unfortunately, as we all know our world has no shortage of atrocities, as recent news has sadly demonstrated. Although I don’t know the details of this particular case or the politics of the region beyond the articles I have read, I was very moved by the responses of high officials such as the New Delhi police chief and some other key officials. The police chief called for the death penalty for the rapists and other political leaders called for the hanging of the rapists. As I have mentioned I am not familiar with the politics of the region or know if this is merely empty political talk without implementing the much needed courageous actions to bring those criminals to justice and prevent horrific crimes like this from taking place again.

What I do know is that the outrage in India following this case by citizens, the media, the police chief and some politicians is very much welcomed and needed in every society, which sadly doesn’t happen too often.

Contrast this to what occurred following the case of the 11 year old baby, who was gang raped in Texas last year. That gruesome case was not on the front pages of newspapers around the country nor did Congress hold an emergency meeting to address violence against girls and women in this country. (Laws designed to protect Native women for example are still lacking political momentum in this country).

Instead when cases like this arise there is a lot of victim blaming and shaming that accompanies them. Even with all the hard work done by feminism and women rights activists, which helped put in place not only policies and protections for girls and women, but also educational resources, there is still a lot of work to be done. Just consider this recent case in Ohio, in which football players raped a young girl, took photos of her naked, and bragged about it online. documented the rape and here is an article on the New York Times about the case.

Popular blogger Franchesca Ramsey recently gave a powerful testimony about her ordeal here.

This issue has been covered by people far more articulate and insightful than I. And I hope we keep covering it and highlighting it again and again, until there is no one left to say, “I feel really bad that happened to her, but she shouldn’t have …….”

When the movie “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf” came out, I went to go see it with a group of friends and afterwards we had a big discussion about the rape scene. I am not even sure if I had blogged about it already, but one of my friends said something along the lines of, “she shouldn’t have invited him to her home.” Instead of putting the blame on the perpetrator and holding him accountable for his criminal actions, it was the victim who “should’ve known better.”

Unfortunately such reasoning is not isolated. It is horrible logic and terrible ethics. It reminds me of the justification of “collateral damage”, ie destroy an entire neighborhood with innocent children, men and women, because a suspect might be hiding among them and afterwards say, “they should’ve known better and taken the necessary steps to avert their slaughter.” This reasoning does exist and these crimes do continue to happen. The root of all these crimes, international or domestic is not seeing the victim (s) as fully human therefore the victim (s) becomes unworthy of a right to life, dignity, and protection.

Certainty one should make smart decisions and avoid risky situations. The problem, rather the moral crisis is how some of us discuss the issue when the crime of rape/sexual assault has been committed. A more powerful party taking full advantage of a weaker party in a certain situation is oppression, is it not? Who will disagree with this? I hope no one, who has a conscience. Therefore when oppression has occurred of a weaker party, and rape is oppression, the conversation shouldn’t be about what the oppressed did or didn’t do to prevent her oppression, but rather the oppression committed by the oppressor. If our conscience doesn’t put full accountability and blame on the oppressor, than that is to provide both a refuge and a moral validation for oppressors (rapists). You might as well go ahead and say slaughtered innocents should’ve known better than to attend an unprotected school, because madmen exist in the world. Why is that logic unacceptable, but shaming rape victim isn’t?

That just reminds us how important it is to keep reiterating victims are not to blame for the crimes of oppressors.It is the oppressors who should be shamed, blamed, and be held accountable for their crimes. And we must support those brave souls like Franchesca, who tell their stories so that through them a young girl or a woman somewhere in the world, who blames herself will know it was never her fault, that she never invited or asked for to be raped.

I will end this post with a famous story shared by a large percentage of humanity. That story is the story of the Prophet Joseph or Yusuf (alayhi salaam) as he is known to Muslims. Most of us probably heard or read of this story. Movies and mini-series have been made of this story. He is said to be the most handsome human being to have ever walked the earth. So much so that upon seeing him, one could not engage in any activity but stare at him awestruck at his remarkable beauty. The wife of Pharaoh, a powerful woman desired him, and he was a slave at that time.

The story goes that she desired him so much and sought to seduce him. He rebuked her advances, which eventually led to their confrontation and then the incident was brought to the King. Yusuf alayhi salaam, a slave, and thus in a weaker, more vulnerable position in that kingdom told the King she sought to take advantage of him, and if he was weaker physically he just may have been raped.

I heard that story growing up on so many occasions, as it is a major story in the Quran, but never had I thought of it in the light of sexual assault/molestation/rape, and victims taking the power to shame their abusers until I heard a lecture from an Imam, who was using that example to encourage the empowerment of victims and not their silence as often done by their conservative communities more concerned about image rather than justice.