This article was originally published in the Women’s Republic.
TW: rape, sexual assault, child abuse
Last year, cases of sexual assault and child abuse increased in the middle of a global pandemic. Protests were held in the capital, and campaigns demanded the State to make immediate changes to bills and policies, to help sexual assault victims and survivors. It is extremely disappointing when systems are corrupt and work in the favor of helping the perpetrator. This is a cultural norm, so why does society deny the existence of rape culture? What happens when people assume that rape culture started recently? What makes people believe that rape is not part of a cultural norm?
By implying that rape culture has never happened before and only started recently is dangerous. But why do people deny it? Some people acknowledge that rape culture exists, but simultaneously deny that it has ever happened or stopped entirely.
Sexual assault cases reported in the Maldives
Last year, a two-year-old child was raped by her grandfather and great-grandfather. Upon further examination, it was revealed that the child was brutally raped by more than one man. In May, a series of cases where children were being blackmailed and coerced by perpetrators and later, sexually assaulted in a guesthouse were reported. A 24-year-old man blackmailed and coerced a 16-year-old to a guesthouse in Malé City. The next month, another report of a minor who was blackmailed and sexually assaulted at a guesthouse was reported.
In late June, the sexual assault of an expatriate woman on a safari boat was reported. This sparked a lot of outrage amongst Maldivians when it was revealed that the two perpetrators were released from police custody. The police stated that the suspects were released due to a “lack of sufficient grounds to keep them detained for the investigation.” In November, a woman and her three children were physically and sexually assaulted by her husband and a religious practitioner under the basis of Ruqya (exorcism).
These were just a few of the many cases of sexual assault and child abuse that were reported. Because of the severity of these cases, protests were held to bring justice to these victims. Rape culture is and always has been in our society. It is dangerous to imply that rape culture is not considered a serious issue and that it started recently.
What is rape culture?
Rape culture is a culture where sexual violence is normalized due to societal views. A lot of people think rape culture only includes sexual assault, but it is more than sexual violence. According to Inside Southern, examples of rape culture are trivializing sexual assault, assuming that ‘boys will be boys’, making sexually explicit jokes, publically scrutinizing a victim’s clothes, mental state, sexual history, and motives, assuming that certain types of women get raped, and refusing to believe rape accusations. In addition, victim-blaming plays a major role in perpetuating rape culture.
Rape culture includes telling girls how they should wear their dresses, who they should hang out with, asking them if they were walking alone at night, and telling women to be aware of their surroundings. Taking precautions such as keeping weapons in a handbag or somewhere close to them, and learning self-dense also reinforces rape culture. Women and girls are blamed if these rules are not followed.
Rape culture is real and it’s dangerous
Rape culture is not a myth, and to deny the existence of it is dangerous. Institutions protect abusers and perpetrators by shaming victims, promoting impunity, corruption, nepotism, and ensuring that victims try to avoid sexual assault. This is the reason why rape is a cultural norm in society. A lot of women are sexually harassed, physically abused, sexually violated, and that is a public crisis. When women go public with their assault, they are immediately questioned for their motives and subjected to further abuse. In the safari rape case, the victim was questioned for her motive. Moreover, people working in the administration debated whether or not it was rape. The very implication of doubting the victim’s story is harmful and a part of the cultural norm.
By blaming and doubting victims, it stops other women from sharing their stories. It is so common for victims to be silenced and perpetrators to roam free without any punishment. When victims do not receive justice, their freedom and safety are constrained. It supports the notion that women are responsible for their surroundings and avoiding sexual assault is their responsibility. It shows that the sexual predator has the power to set the boundaries on women’s lives, completely disregarding that the perpetrator is at fault.
This kind of rhetoric is extremely dangerous. Rape culture is a continuation of patriarchal power that has supported systems of corruption and sexual violence of young women and girls. It has not gone anywhere, and it never will. The fact that rape culture is so common makes it hard to determine how prevalent it is, but it still exists.
Ignorance is dangerous
A singular case did not start rape culture. The safari rape case was not the first time a woman had been sexually assaulted. Many women face sexual harassment and violence on the street, at the workplace, at school, and even at home. By stating that rape culture started only recently is incredibly detrimental. Frankly, it means that people are in a state of denial. How many other cases were reported before the safari rape case? Some cases would not have even been reported to the police. Rape culture comes in many forms of violence. It is important to understand that rape culture is not only about sexual violence. There are many other examples of rape culture that people must be aware of.
For years, Maldivian women have been subjected to violence from their partners, parents, and friends. Rape, sexual violence, and sexual harassment are part of a cultural norm and it has been repeatedly discussed. It is appalling how much further some people will go to refuse to acknowledge years of violence perpetrated against women and children by male sexual entitlement. The most important change that can be done is for the State to hold abusers and perpetrators accountable, regardless of their status. Corrupt leaders must be removed from their positions for inciting hate and spreading misinformation about rape culture to the public. By eliminating these problems and understanding what rape culture is, it takes a step forward to make changes to protect women and children.