Trigger Warnings // Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, stalking, suicide
“Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger will always find a woman. Always.” – Khaled Hosseini
With the tremendous regression of women’s rights we’ve witnessed this year, televised, non-televised, in the justice system, in workplaces, in our social circle, I think it is absolutely vital that we talk about the normalisation of sexual violence and abuse. We each and every one of us deserve to be safe at home, at work, in school, on the streets, with our partners, friends and our relatives. We need to talk about consent, trauma responses, shifting the onus, how race can play a role, how gender definitely plays a role and, all the more important, in the aftermath, that we do our duty and stand firm against injustice. We should not at all be contributing to rape culture. The less and less we do our duty, the more we fail victims, the more victims will retreat, and the more victims will feel and be ostracised, and God knows what happens next?
There are four trauma responses to abuse and sexual assault and, often, the victim will adopt the safest course of action. The instinct is more than always: “How do I survive this?”
- Freeze. It is not constructed in everyone’s DNA to fight back, as Deepika Padukone wisely explained in the Actresses Roundtable. There are a number of reasons why a victim might freeze. Your brain may shut down and wait for it to be over. Your brain may even struggle to process what is happening right now, it’s in a state of shock that this is even happening in the first place. You may disassociate. It’s your body’s way of protecting you. People will say, “Well, why didn’t you fight back?” I’ll explain why fighting back isn’t always going to stand in your favour.
- Fight. So, you fight back. You tell them to stop. You get angry, you get aggressive. And then what happens? You may still be blamed. You’ll get asked, “You must have done something for him to think it’s okay?” You will still be blamed if you tell someone to back off. You could just be a naturally bubbly person, but to a man, if a girl so much as talks to a man in an ordinary friendly way, some men will be audacious enough to think they have a chance; it’s a streak of entitlement. “She spoke to me, that must mean she wants me, and I can have her.” That’s not your fault. If a man wants to escape accountability and other men also benefit from rape culture and associating with that person, they will always find a way to blame you. This is how they get away with it. They stand there cool, calm and collected while you’re angry.. because they’re not the ones who are affected. Brian Laundrie was calm too. Laughing and joking with the police officers. You get told, “Why did you get angry?” But if you freeze, that’s also held against you. Even if you physically fight back, you can still be physically overpowered. I know. Gabby Petito fought back, and she was blamed by the police and called an abuser. Now she’s dead. Nicole Brown Simpson fought back. O.J. Simpson called himself a ‘battered husband’ in his infamous suicide note. Now Nicole Brown Simpson is dead. No matter what response you adopt, you will never be a safe with a man committed to harassing, assaulting, and abusing you. By then, it is likely that you might have developed a trauma bond, likened to cocaine addiction, with your abuser. It happens.. Nicole Brown Simpson wanted to get back with O.J. Simpson. You might not leave. In the book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, Bessel van der Kolk speaks about how victims of abuse, particularly sexual abuse, will return to dangerous men, almost as if there is peace in chaos and peace in the familiar. They have not experienced healthy bonds at a young age to even be able to think of it as an option. We have a long way to go in understanding trauma responses.
- Flight. You might try to get away. Even still, you will be blamed. “Maybe it’s in your head”, “Oh, but it was in public”. Predators will find a way to get you alone, they might use every excuse under the sun. They might say it’s about a project to get you alone to chat you up, or come and speak to you in public, offer you help on something a 12-year-old can do, after you’ve done everything you can to avoid them.. like wait them out of a meeting room, when you see them meandering, until they’ve gone. Or they might follow you to the shops. You adopt flight only to end up getting stalked. You might be told, “What were you wearing?” “Why were you alone?” “It’s in public, so you’re safe.” If it’s a predator, you’re not safe even in public. What you wear will never matter. I’ve worn a hijab and burqa to an Islamic talk, and I received even more attention from Muslim men. I’ve dressed like a tomboy, hoodies, and trainers, and still got catcalled and got told that I was essentially ‘asking for it’. I’ve been out with no make-up, almost greasy hair, jogging bottoms, and I received more attention. In fact, the way I dress now, I receive less attention than when I adopt other clothes. There’s a reason why the Prophet (SAWS) told the man to lower his gaze and didn’t go up to the woman his companion was staring at to tell her to dress modestly, we’re not even sure what she was wearing.
- Fawn. This is when you “please, appease, and pacify the threat in an effort to keep yourself safe from further harm”. If a woman adopts this method when she’s alone with her abuser/rapist, at risk of further violence, whatever sexual activity follows is not consensual, it is coercion. If you’re scared you’ll be at the receiving end of further violence, you can’t get away and you can’t fight back, this may be what you do. The sad thing is Stockholm Syndrome can develop… look at Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo.
We do what we need to survive. There will never be a perfect victim. Not even children because their intelligence and memories may be questioned. Not even dead victims because the abuser can rewrite the narrative, look at O.J. Simpson. There will never be a perfect victim when some men benefit from rape culture. The onus should never be on us.
The onus should always be on the perpetrator, and we need to start shifting the onus. Consent must be obtained and when declined, that decision needs to be respected, continuing when consent is withdrawn, whether that’s verbal or non-verval (physically being shoved away – bear in mind some may lie and say they stopped after they were shoved away), consent not explicitly given amounts to sexual coercion. When the traffic light turns red.. we stop. But when a woman says “Stop”, it means nothing to some men. How is it a traffic light holds more rights than a woman? How is a traffic light more valued than a woman? Why are there more consequences when a red light is ignored but not when a woman’s “stop” and “no” is ignored? Pulling the friendship and relationship card is a complete denial of the validity of withdrawal of consent and, if that is the case, then we might as well throw legislation entirely into the Thames. How many times do we have to say “stop” and “no, I don’t want to” before it is finally respected? Did we all not learn what the words ‘stop’ and ‘no’ means as children? So, then, why do we infantilise grown men, who’ve lived through the MeToo movement, and learned what the word ‘stop’ and ‘no’ means in Primary School? “He should have known better”. Oh, they know. They knew and still proceeded. They just don’t value a woman’s no because they don’t value women at all. The more we infantilise men, the more we enable our own oppression, and the more we contribute to rape culture.
Predatory men know when we’re uncomfortable, they know when we’re avoiding them, they can see it in our face, they can see our stiff body language, they know. And they don’t care. Because they want what they want even if we don’t want them. So, they might go on and take it by force. Perhaps they feel bigger and powerful in ways they don’t feel otherwise. The smaller the physical ‘stature’.. can even lead to dominating a woman to feel powerful in ways their stature doesn’t allow them be. The only way they can feel big and powerful is by dominating a woman. That is oppression.
Rape, sexual violence and abuse apologists
Everyone is against rape, sexual assault, and abuse.. until it’s their friend. Many have this picture that sexual predators and abusers are those who harm everyone, but that’s very often not the case. Abusers and rapists don’t target everyone because how else would they get away with it? They are the “Mr Nice Guys” (some are even self-proclaimed “nice guys”), “He’s basically a nice guy”, “He’s harmless”, “No way, not him”. He’s the guy who’s laughing, charming everyone (intentionally), purposefully ‘nice’.. so, you never suspect a thing. And that’s how they get away with it. Because you just don’t want to believe it. But one persons’ experience is enough even if it may not be yours. We make allowances for one, we make allowances for all, the more you normalise it, the deeper we embed the very structure of our society in rape culture. It will continue and it will get worse.
They push and they push and they push until you finally react. Whether they’re pushing the boundaries slowly but surely until you eventually have enough or maybe they’re raping you repeatedly, and, in the case of some South Asian men, slutshaming you for months, subtly controlling the way you dress, all the while following and/ liking half naked women on Instagram even right down to graphic porn art. Imagine your body being violated repeatedly, being berated for what you wear all the while they follow what they want (you’ll hear some in the Muslim community believe that’s perfectly acceptable, it’s not. It’s controlling and hypocritical). Eventually, you’ll have enough. It wouldn’t be the easiest thing to confront your rapist and/ abuser and look them in the eye and call them for what they are, but maybe it’s easier to react to the control, to the double standards. And you’ll get blamed for it. A man’s accusing finger..
Until it happens to you. And you’ll find everyone enabling him, downplaying his behaviour, making justifications for him. When people benefit from associating with such a man, they will always excuse him. So, for those who are laughing around with sexual predators, going cycling with rapists, I will call you for what you are: an accessory to rape and abuse. When the Day of Judgement comes, those victims, Insha’Allah, I pray fervently, will have a say against you.. you, an accessory to oppression. When you see and hear everything these rapists, predators and abusers lied about, when you see the truth, those who were oppressed, Insha’Allah, can speak against you. I, for one, will not forgive.
But for those who’ve suffered gendered violence and are still associating with predators and abusers, who’s actions may not make sense, I believe in extending compassion and mercy to them. We can’t keep asking for victims to fall under the ‘perfect victim’ narrative.
Surah an-Nisah, verse 148: “God does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And ever is God Hearing and Knowing.”
We need to talk about race. The other major imbalance of power. It was my sister last night who made that revelation to me. “If you were white, would this be happening?” Recently, an infamous accuser was found, having not been seen in 20 years. Unless you’re famous, the imbalance of power is stacked against your favour… unless you redirect it to black and Asian women. Would they dare have the courage to do this if we weren’t Asian or black? They’d be in trouble, right? But we mustn’t forget, while we saw the televised regression of women’s rights, we have to stand in solidarity. When it comes down to it, every woman here, whichever race, is in it together in this fight. We need solidarity.
The conviction rate of rape in this country is unbelievably low. The Independent reported in January 2022 that only 1.3% of rapes are resulting in a charge. We have a jury system in place.. whilst there are experts in sexual and domestic violence, organisations such as Women’s Aid. Some places without a jury see higher results in charges. What a damaging message this is for women here. In the USA, also a jury-based system, it took 85 actresses who accused Harvey Weinstein, their colleague, for Weinstein to be taken down. Unless more women come forward, we barely stand a chance.
Imagine knowing this as a victim of rape and sexual assault, imagine knowing how unsafe we are. Realistically, the fallout is PTSD symptoms, how do you find rest? You don’t rest, not especially when you are justice-oriented, for all the Hermione Granger’s of the world. It is reported that rape victims are 13% more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide. For children who were victims of child sex abuse, the likelihood of being raped in their adulthood is increased. We need to do better.
Surah an-Nisah, verse 135 reveals: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it is against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed God is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”
We each and every one of us have a duty to prevent oppression. We each of us have a duty to each other. We each of us have a duty to stand against injustice. The authorities are not going to help us, the statistics show they absolutely don’t. It’s always the ties of community that delivers justice.
One person cannot do it alone. This isn’t a fantasy world, and I don’t have three dragons. We need people to come forward, to help, to speak up. If you want change, if you want safety, you have to take it for yourself and do your best to make that your reality. We all have to work together.