The Breakthrough Voice 11th July, 2019

Everyday Things We Say To Abuse Survivors (And Should Stop!).

Patriarchal society frames laws that launch emotional attacks on the survivors.

Rape culture is an integral part of the larger schematic representation of patriarchy. How many times have we shamed people on the basis of their clothes, sexual preferences and desires? The glorification of toxic masculinity is a vital element of the patriarchal structure, which leaves people without any agency, in the middle of an ocean filled with judgemental statements. In our society, and worldwide, it is a common thing to see survivors of sexual and physical abuse being questioned endlessly, in an attempt to nullify their claims. 

Moreover, there are ‘well-meaning’ people who come across as helpers, yet end up passing toxic comments and asking uncomfortable questions that result in victim shaming. In order to make certain amendments, in this regard, it is cardinal to understand how and why such an outlook culminates into a toxic attitude, within the larger society. 

Most survivors of sexual (or/and physical abuse) are asked toxic questions that make them feel guilty of no fault of theirs. In these situations, the focus conveniently shifts from the criminal act to the survivor’s (or victim’s) social position. While statements like ताली एक हाथ से नहीं बजती” are directly aimed at shaming the survivor, statements like “Why didn’t you say anything when it was actually happening?” make the survivor question themselves. 

Carol Smart, in one of her books, Feminism and the Power of Law, aptly described how patriarchal society frames laws that launch emotional attacks on the survivors. Such a situation only adds further pain to the survivors, as they are constantly made to believe that the ordeal was partly due to their own fallacies. Statements like ‘Why did you go there alone?’ provide the abusers with more privilege and power to make themselves look innocent. This is an effective method of playing with the already traumatised minds of survivors. These toxic statements make us question whether we were, in fact, remotely responsible for the abusive behaviour being meted out to us. Whether abused once in a while or whether having faced continued violence, both instances lead to high levels of mental agony. 

Here is a list (not comprehensive) of statements and questions that we (society) subject abuse survivors to:

ताली एक हाथ से नहीं बजती |

People will do what they want, YOU should have been more careful.

गल्ती किसी का भी हो, झेलना तो तुम्हे ही पड़ेगा |

तुमने तब क्यों नहीं बोला?

But you didn’t say a firm no, right?

How can you be so sure? He didn’t do anything to me.

Why didn’t you say anything when it was actually happening?

Women call anything abuse. In our times, we used to talk it out. No need to cry ‘divorce’ at everything.

He didn’t hit you, right? Then how can you call it abuse?

I can’t believe these allegations after so many years. These feminazis always crave for five minutes of fame.

इतना भी नहीं हुआ होगा |

She’s naming and shaming for a petty revenge scheme.

What did YOU do?

He did the same to me. I manned up instead of crying about it like a little bitch.

You’re lucky that someone at least touched a fat and ugly person like you.

अपना रंडी-रोना बंध करो!

Are you absolutely sure? Maybe you just misunderstood his intentions.

Men are like that. You should have been more careful. 

Why did you go there alone?

Things would not have escalated, had you kept quiet.

Why didn’t you do anything? That obviously gave him the message that you were liking it.

These days so many good people are being falsely accused, we do not know whom to believe.

But he is a very good person. I don’t think he could have ever done that.

आज कल की ‘मॉडर्न’ लड़कियाँ तो हर बात पे नारीवाद-नारीवाद चिल्लाती हैं |

हमारे ज़माने में यह सब नहीं होता था, क्योंकि हम ऐसे कपड़े पहन के बहार नहीं घूमते थे |

Many a time, we do come across friends and relatives who probably mean well, but end up making the process of demanding justice even more cumbersome. While addressing issues related to abuse, nothing else but the abusive behaviour – physical, sexual, and mental – must be sought after. Whether it is through direct slut shaming, victim blaming, and denial, or through indirect questions about the survivor’s social positioning, attire and acts of retaliation during abuse, everything turns into the institutional method of blaming the victim and hailing the perpetrator, in order to keep the wheel of patriarchy turning.

Society expects us to wait till the last straw, only AFTER which we can speak out about the ordeals that we undergo. Until that stage arrives, we are constantly told to stay put and suffer in silence, no matter what effect it has on our personal lives and mental health. Suspicious questioning and derogatory comments in the court of law, by the police, by relatives and friends and by the ever-so-concerned neighbours are the easiest ways to make survivors feel that they are on the incorrect side of the fence. For as long as we continue to disregard the stories of survivors, we give in to the patriarchal institutions and accept toxic masculinity. 

It is high time to make an honest effort to break the chains, the glass ceiling, and the institutions of patriarchy. Believe the survivors of abuse. Once abused, they do not want to be abused again. The greater defeat lies in the disbelief of the larger society than the ordeal faced.

Also Read: Everyday Sexism: The Questions We Should Be Asking

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