Why we need to start taking sexual harassment accusations more seriously
Have you ever wondered what goes inside the mind of a serial sex offender?
People don’t wake up one fine morning and think, “you know what, let’s try to molest someone today.” No, they build up an appetite for such behaviors through years of internalized, devious narratives. Like Ted Bundy, they work on gaining the trust of the people around them, making sure that no one else notices when they indulge themselves.
Perhaps, these offenders feel that they are entitled to behaving like this because they are good looking, charming and/or belong to certain strata of society. Most of all, they do this because they feel like they have the power in such situations.
No two sex offenders are alike. However, most sex offenders are experts in rationalizing their behavior. They often commit crimes in situations where sexual violence is more likely to go unpunished. Trying to fit an accused sex offender into a typical profile is also foolhardy, because, in all honesty, no such profile exists. Ted Bundy, for instance, was not only an A student but also someone who volunteered for his university’s suicide prevention centre. Does that sound like a typical serial rapist and killer?
Why we need to stop accepting excuses
In the recent spate of allegations, several victims have mentioned how the perpetrators used their position and organizational power to both coerce women for sexual favors and also to evade scrutiny when official complaints were raised. They have engaged in actions that border on the verge of paedophilia. Only a small percentage of survivors ever come forward. If the accusations are this grave, then you have to wonder what else has been done that will never see the light of day.
Also read: The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”
Some of the perpetrators have used their (allegedly) frail mental states as an excuse for their behavior. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, let me be categorically clear: anxiety or any other kind of mental illness does not give you license to be a sorry excuse for a human being. Nothing does.
Sexual harassment survivors rarely come forward, but when they do, they find a litany of obstacles blocking their way to justice.
There is victim blaming, yes, but there’s also fence sitting, stonewalling and gaslighting.
These are the reasons why Me Too still hasn’t picked up pace in places like Bangladesh. Instead of diligently investigating accusations, matters are swept under the rug. We shame the victim, accusing her of not keeping quiet about her shame. Sometimes, close relatives also blame the victim for speaking out in the first place.
Also read: Let’s dare to debate about harassment
On the other hand, a bevvy of options is made available for the accused. We create excuses for the individual. “He didn’t mean it. He was young. He was misguided. He can get better.” We refuse to indict the accused, while mounting piles of evidence continue to grow. But then again, does evidence really matter when the “she was asking for it” mantra still reigns supreme?
Why sex offenders go free
Only 2% of rapists are convicted. It’s not difficult to see why that’s the case. Of course, rape and molestation aren’t the same things. But they stem from the same mindset: the kind of mindset that objectifies women to the highest degree. And they aren’t alone: in closely knit communities, they are often aided and abetted by various kind of facilitators.
One recent survivor recounted in her Facebook post how others helped the accused in getting her alone in a room, and how afterwards, many tried to persuade her from taking the matter to the authorities, because ‘it would make life difficult for her’. This kind of gaslighting is shocking but not entirely surprising.
Legal recourse is rarely pursued, and even when it is, the onus is on the victim because the benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant (which, in this case, is the accused). And that kind of doubt can be easily created. Gina Tron of Vice wrote about her own assault story, discussing how the defence attorney used photos and drawings from the Internet to construe that Tron liked ‘rough sex’. Her case was eventually thrown out, because “they apparently thought I hadn’t fought back enough and I wasn’t bruised enough and I didn’t go to the police soon enough.”
With such a bleak outlook, it’s no surprise that so many survivors choose to remain silent. They have to put their reputation on the line, with so little to gain. It’s fortunate, then, that brave souls still come forward in the hope that other’s do not face the same fate.
On the other side of the coin
Of course, not all accused are equal. Some are, in fact, wrongfully accused, but historically, that number has proven to be very small (2-8% of all accusations). There is a danger that Me Too accusations can destroy a person’s life before he/she can dispute the claims made against him/her; however, in most cases, the accuser has much more to lose by coming forward.
Making sure such events do not happen again is no mean feat, and makes for a conversation that’s best left for another day. But it’s a conversation that we need to have frequently and more often. Otherwise, these stories will continue to slip through the cracks.