Wednesday, 28 February 2018

It's Time to End Rape Culture

“What were you wearing?”
“Boys will be boys.”
“It’s your fault for going out at night.”

Sound familiar?

Rape is not something unfamiliar to Malaysians. Hardly a week goes by without reports of a new rape incident. With the numbers pilling up over the past few years, we can no longer ignore that rape culture has grown prevalent in Malaysia.

29 698 reported rape cases between 2006 to 2015.
Approximately an average of 7 rape cases a day.

It is clear that we now live in a society where the occurrence of sexual assault and rape is normalised and considered inevitable. However, in a country where even the mention of sex is considered taboo, how is it that the number of rape and sexual assault cases are on the rise?

It comes as no shock that our society has a deeply entrenched misogynistic mind set and that this ideology has been instilled in us since we were young with little progress being made to overcome it. With this mentality and world view, the burden of rape prevention has now fallen onto the victims. It is more common that a woman be blamed for rape due to the way she dresses or acts rather than the offender being held responsible, despite most rape cases being committed on girls as young as 12 years old.

This patriarchal society is only enforced by the lack of accountability befalling offenders and the lack of equal treatment and education. Men and women are brought up differently. While women are taught shame and modesty, men are taught to be strong and wilful. Sexual education in particular is not taught in schools, resulting in men and women to grow up with little knowledge on sex and consent.

Even at a university level, it is clear that the objectification of women is taken very lightly especially among men. For instance, in April 2017, an incident involving an IACT student being the subject of rape jokes among the male students caught the limelight of social media. In a group chat, made with the primary purpose of objectifying freshman girls, the male student ‘joked’ that he wanted to rape her. This caused a huge public uproar when the messages were leaked on social media.

Of course, then excuses arose; this was just “locker room talk”, they were simply joking, their comments held no real intent. However, normalising jokes or comments made at the expense of women or about topics such as rape and sexual assault only feeds into misogynistic culture. By normalising disrespect towards women and undermining the horrors of sexual aggression, this insensitive mentality is only instilled in us as we mature and enforces victim-blaming culture.

If this is the standard we have set for our youth, then to what standard should we hold the leaders of our nation?

In 2017, former sharia court judge and UMNO MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya stated that while rape is an offence, a rape victim’s best option for a bright future was by marrying her rapist. He further went on to state that girls as young as 9 or 12 years old who have bodies resembling 18 year olds are "spiritually and physically" ready for marriage. Essentially, legalising statutory rape.

Often a rape victim is asked questions such as “what were you wearing at the time?”, “were you drunk?” and “why were you out alone?” which shifts the blame onto the victim. For a former judge and a societal representative to validate and participate in the toxic belief that the victim was responsible for what happened to her is particularly horrifying. Despite the outrage his statements caused among Malaysians, it provided a ‘get-out-of-jail’ free card for rapists: marry your victims.

So how do we move forward?

We live in a new age. It is a time for activism and change. Women and other minorities have started standing up for themselves to make a difference. Social media in particular has provided a platform where even the weak are given a voice. The impact of social media is especially fruitful in the West where there has been an influx of support for women and the sexually abused through the #heforshe, #metoo and #timesup movements. All of which have given women and men who have been sexually abused, the courage to tell their side of the story and has resulted in major repercussions for many of their offenders as seen in the case of Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar.

Further, as a result of the 2016 presidential election, rallies such as the Women’s March have been held all over the world and there has been a huge amount of support for these public demonstrations. Malaysia held its first ever Women’s March last March in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Although there were many people that were sceptical about the what these demonstrations would achieve, the main goal of such demonstrations are to spread the message of equality and empower men and women.

However, there is a long way to go. Remoulding the way in which a society views rape and sexual crimes takes time and effort. Activism is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction but the government needs to play its role in enacting better and more progressive laws in this area. Sexual education for one, should be mandatory to be taught at a young age instead of leaving it up to parents or religious leaders. People must be educated on the topic of consent.

It is time to teach people not to rape instead of how to prevent from being raped.

It is time to end rape culture.