Worrying epidemic turn of sexual violence

Published: 00:00, Jan 02,2020


RIGHTS situation, especially violence against women, has taken a turn towards the worst. Rights group Ain O Salish Kendra in its 2019 annual report says that 1,413 women were raped, 76 were killed after rape while 10 of the victims committed suicide. Eighteen victims of stalking and 17 others were killed for protesting sexual harassment; 1,087 children were raped and sexually assaulted in 2019, almost two and a half times higher than the 2018 figure. The reported incidents of rape were also significantly low at 818 in 2018. The report paints a grim picture of women’s safety in society, noting the fundamental failure of the law enforcement agencies in tackling sexual violence. While the government appointed women to the highest of the positions and initiated women’s inclusion into formal and informal economy, the inclusions appear rather ornamental as women’s security concern remains unattended. The statistics at hand also go against the government’s much publicised narrative of women’s empowerment.

All the authorities concerned publicly deplore sexual violence but, in practice, they maintain double standards that tend to subscribe to discourses of victim blaming and not to treat cases of rape or sexual harassment seriously. Citing references from Class VI and IX-X home economics textbooks, the report shows how the syllabus has, by asking them to maintain ‘socially acceptable dress code’, indirectly shifted the blame from perpetrators of sexual violence to the victims. Institutional double standards in dealing with rape are also witnessed in the way law enforcement agencies treat victims. In September, the Pabna police officer-in-charge and a sub-inspector were withdrawn and suspended for arranging for a marriage between a rape victim and one of the rapists. The unethical and illegal way, the Songazi police officer-in-charge recorded Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s complaint of sexual harassment and released it on the social media substantiates this point. On December 30, 2018, the gang-rape of a housewife at Subarnachar Noakhali for casting vote for the opposition political party by local Awami League activists is a glaring example in this regard. It is evident from the incidents that rape is institutionally tolerated behind the governments’ rhetoric of women’s empowerment.

Rape and sexual violence have not only taken an epidemic turn, but are also alarmingly normalised. The government must abandon the double standards it maintains regarding sexual violence and address the wider problems of patriarchal insincerity and masculine political culture infesting the system. Conscientious section of society has no alternative but to actively mobilse public opinions against the social bias that ideologically tolerates male violence and blame the victim.

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