The Questions We Need To Stop Asking When Someone Is Sexually Harassed

Posted on June 24, 2016 in Society

By Rhea Mahanta:

A usual thing happened today. I got groped again while walking back home. It was drizzling and dusk had set in. A bunch of guys on a bike were speeding towards me from the opposite direction while I was struggling with my umbrella. My focus was on avoiding puddles and the muck from the tyres of speeding cars, not looking out for sexual predators.

Before I knew it, I felt a painful thud on my chest and more than a couple of hands grab my breasts and toss me on a puddle, all within seconds, before speeding away. I could hear them screaming with exhilarating laughter, championing the victorious war cry of ‘SCORE!’. Not far ahead, three young girls burst in amusement and tried to avoid eye contact with me, looking away with guilt and suppressing their laughter at the same time as they crossed my path.

My first instinct was to follow not one, but all the different pieces of advice that opinionated people usually have to offer. I wanted to run after the bike and beat them up. But that was my emotions talking. I wanted to do the intelligent thing and note down the bike’s number. But of course, it was too dark and there were no streetlights. Another voice in my head told me not to react and just keep walking like nothing had happened, to ‘maintain my dignity’.

The latter was the most pathetic of choices, and the actual one that I made. When I continued walking and my brain had the time to absorb what just happened, my mind was rushing with questions that I would have to answer once I told anybody about the incident.

“Where was your pepper spray?”
“You were even dressed decently!”
“You still haven’t ordered a taser gun?”
“You knew it was a bad area.”
“Why didn’t you run after them?”
“You shouldn’t run after them, these kind of boys are vengeful!”
“So you didn’t do anything?”

You see what happened here? Suddenly, I become answerable for the entire incident, whichever way it goes. I contemplated lying for a moment and saying that I tried to attack them with my umbrella. But the truth is, I did nothing. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had no choice. The boys had sped away and the streets were too dark to take note of the vehicle number.

But you see, no one will tackle the real issues here, the external factors that contribute to such incidents (because the woman is inherently to blame). No one will address the municipal committee as to why the street lights weren’t working or why there were no CCTV cameras. No one will ask the witnesses in my lane (and there were plenty) why they just stood and watched, and did nothing to help.

No one’s raising the right questions because society is conditioned (by whom you ask? Oh, you know, Patriarchy!) to hold the ‘victim’ (as much as I despise the word) liable for what he or she did, and did not do. There doesn’t appear to be much serious discussion on developing means of catching offenders. These incidents continue to be on the rise only because getting away is the easiest thing for these culprits.

We have been dealing with sexual violence the same way we have been dealing with it for centuries. We focus on what the ‘victim’ should or should not have done or what a potential one can do to prevent the crime from happening to her/him, instead of focusing on eliminating the crime itself. This is essentially saying ‘save yourself, let someone else be the ‘victim’.

We as a society have been trying to control the symptom instead of curing the disease. Times have progressed but there appear to have been no solid steps discussed, let alone taken, to ensure that incidents like these do not happen. Little seems to have been done to target the ‘act’ of sexual violence itself. There are only measures for girls to alter their own actions so that the probability of them becoming a target lessens (meaning that someone else’s chances of becoming a target increase).

I thought a lot about whether or not I should publicise a personal experience. But the truth is, it is far from personal. As if the experience itself is not stressful enough, the anxiety of having to answer to family/society and the frustration of not addressing the core problem runs through the minds of millions of individuals who experience sexual violence. Not talking about it is no more different than suppressing the expression of our collective struggle.

We don’t just need to stop asking the wrong questions, we need to start raising the right ones. Imagine what that could do.