About six months back or so, a video had surfaced of a cop trying to feel up a woman on Kalyan railway station. In the video, the cop was sitting next to a woman on a bench on the platform, and while acting ignorant, slyly touched her back constantly. An onlooker filmed this video with his phone. He eventually started screaming at the cop, and fellow passengers started beating him up. The cop ran away after denying all claims.
Even though seeing those people call out the cop in this video made me happy, the online discussion surrounding it didn’t. A lot of people took issue with the fact that the woman in question did not do anything to stop the policeman. She didn’t move from her place nor did she raise an alarm to alert people around her. We are living in an era where women everywhere are coming forward with their sexual assault stories and people everywhere are standing in solidarity with them, and yet victim blaming is still rampant. Men and women equally are seen blaming victims for getting molested, assaulted or raped.
I think what people fail to understand here is that women have been conditioned into remaining silent since they were kids. At a very young age, we are told not to wear a certain outfit or not visit a certain place because men might leer at us. We are told to keep mum if a man feels us up so as to save face in the society. We are told that going out after 7 pm will invite lewd advances from men. And we believed all this because we were kids. We accepted at a very young age that the responsibility of sexual harassment, abuse and assault lies in our behaviour and appearance, and the man is not at fault.
We grew up with these false notions, and they greatly affected our behaviour as adults. We didn’t drink in public as much as our male friends, because if we did, we might be seen as asking for it. We didn’t wear our favourite skirts or shorts outside because we lived in the fear of getting molested or eve-teased. We made it a point to return early from work because we didn’t want to get raped. We had to take proactive measures to ensure our safety. Some men will never understand the fear women live with, everyday.
The term “blaming the victim” was coined by psychologist William Ryan in 1971. He described it as an ideology used to justify racism and social injustice against black people in the United States. But in popular culture, the term is used to trivialize and shame men and women who have been a victim of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Questions like what were you wearing or why were you out at that time or were you drunk are directed towards victims, and are not uncommon in these situations.
Victim blaming is wrong- there is no doubt about that. But it is important to understand the deep-rooted reason behind this. Of course, in some cases victim blaming may occur as a result of societal rules, smugness and a sense of superiority.
But psychologists believe that the tendency to blame the victims is deeply rooted in an individual’s belief that the world is a good and just place, and hence the perpetrators are pushed into doing something bad and not simply of their own accord. Think about it. Everyday we wake up to horrific news of school shootings, terrorism, rapes, lynchings and what not. But if I were to ask you if you think you are vulnerable to these just as much as say someone living in the US or someone who is a beef butcher, you would say no. You would think that these crimes are less likely to happen to you because you aren’t in certain specific situations.
University of Massachusetts psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman terms this as “positive assumptive worldview’. We tend to believe that only good things happen to good people, which is why nothing bad will happen to us. Most of us internalized these beliefs at an early age. Of course, as we mature we learn to become more sensitive towards victims of a crime and question the status quo. At a conscious level, we know that the victim is not at fault. But at a subconscious level, we always question if the victim could have done something differently to avoid the crime. This is our brain’s way of psychologically separating ourselves from the victim, essentially trying to maintain the belief that the world is fair and only good things will happen to us.
But then again, this does not mean that you should feel good about yourself for blaming the victim. The challenge is to be empathetic despite this deep rooted need. The challenge is to rise above and be better. It is a tough situation to be in. But try.