This past Saturday was a busy day for victim-blamers on social media. As hundreds of students valiantly protested outside the Jinnah Sindh Medical University for action to be taken against a faculty member who allegedly attempted to rape a female student and has been harassing students for three years, commentators on social media refused to believe the allegations and speculated why the victim didn’t come forward before. Some even went as far as demanding legal action against the students for causing chaos and behaving like a ‘mob’.
For women in Pakistan, victim-blaming is the only thing that awaits you after you have been subjected to a crime. Noor Mukaddam’s case taught women, that even in death, they are not safe from character assassination and victim-blaming. The most repeated question asked by victim-blamers is why the victim did not report the crime immediately. The answer lies in the question itself, and the collective behaviour of society that it represents — the victim is always in the fear of being doubted, of not being believed in. For women, Pakistan has always been a land of non-believers.
The lack of empathy and blatant insensitivity that reeks from victim-blamers is hard to wrap your head around. Psychologists explain this behaviour through the hindsight bias and just-world-phenomenon. Hindsight bias is the human tendency to believe – that in the face of an event, we should have been able to see the signs and predict the outcome. It makes one believe that the victim of a crime or accident should have been able to prevent whatever happened to them. On the other hand, the just-world-phenomenon describes how people believe that the world is fair and tragedy happens to people because they deserve it or faltered in a way to have caused it. This helps people believe that nothing terrible could happen to them because they are cautious and conscientious, and can easily uphold the illusion of a just world.
However, people rarely blame the actions and decisions of the victims of robbery or murder with the same conviction and indifference as they do with victims of sexual assault, violence or domestic abuse. Patriarchy, misogyny and internalised misogyny lie at the heart of the reasons pertaining to victim-blaming.
The training to victim-blaming begins very early on in our lives. In schools, especially all-girls schools, girls are taught that wearing kajal or lipstick is immoral as it entices men, leading to harassment and rape. This ‘slut-shaming’ in schools is never subtle as teachers can go as far as claiming that hanging your braid over your shoulders is what prostitutes used to do. When a male teacher is reported for inappropriate behaviour, the best advice that the school management can offer students is to not go near the teacher or meet him in his office alone. Entering puberty, female children are isolated from the outside world, and prohibited from playing outside like their brothers, in the guise of protecting them from the male gaze. Thus, the girl grows up to be a woman who has followed a long list of cautionary rules to be safe and have her supposed dignity intact. This woman believes that nothing bad ever happens to those women who follow the rules. But deep-down, she knows that she too had something bad happen to her, something that still twists her insides when she thinks about it, but could never say it out aloud because she lives in the land of non-believers.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2022.
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