Sexual abuse survivors suffer in silence
Amid anti-rape demonstrations across Bangladesh, a Dhaka Tribune online survey to gauge public opinion on the issue has revealed the shocking finding that the majority of respondents had been molested by a family member or a friend of the family at some point.
A total of 406 people from different districts of Bangladesh participated in the survey from October 6 to 11. Among the respondents, 65.3% are female, 34% are male, and 0.7% are transgender.
Due to the social stigma associated with sexual harassment and rape, the survey was conducted anonymously.
Overall, 54.4% of respondents said they have been touched inappropriately by family members or friends. 62.6% female and 37.7% male respondents said a family member or family friend had touched them inappropriately at some point in their lives. All transgender respondents to the poll said that they have been touched inappropriately.
A total of 26.1% (32% female and 13% male) respondents said they do not feel safe around their male family members or friends of the family. 17% female, 15.2% male and 66.7% transgender respondents said they have been coerced into having sex at some point of their lives.
Furthermore, 7.1% of male respondents admitted to having forced or coerced a person to have sex without consent.
About 70% of the respondents are from Dhaka district and rest are from Chittagong, Magura, Khulna, Comilla, Jessore, Patuakhali, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Bogra, Barisal, Faridpur, Bagerhat, Chapainawabganj, Cox’s Bazar, Jhenaidah, Joypurhat, Manikganj, Munshiganj, Mymensingh, Narayanganj, Narsingdi, Tangail, Chuadanga, Dinajpur, Feni, Gazipur, Habiganj, Jhalokati, Moulvibazar, Narail, Netrokona, Noakhali, Pabna, Pirojpur, Rajbari, and Rangpur.
Men more likely to suffer in silence
Men are more likely to suffer in silence than women. The survey found that 88.1% of male sexual abuse victims never reported the incident to police, family or friends. Among female respondents, 52.8% said they never spoke up against their abuser.
One male respondent said: “I was abused by a male teacher when I was in grade four. He abused most of his students. When I told my family, they asked me not to tell anyone about this. It is a misconception that only women get abused, I was abused by a maid in our house as well.”
The study found that 11.3% of the respondents think that women’s clothes invite rape. A total of 9.8% women and 14.5% male respondents agreed that women’s attire is responsible for rape incidents.
All transgender respondents said a women’s clothing was not responsible for rape.
One female respondent said she had been groped on public transport while wearing a hijab.
Among the participants, 14% are aged 11-20, 46.8% are aged between 21-30, 29.3% are aged 31-40, 6.2% are aged 41-50, 2.2% are aged 51-60, and 1.5% are aged over 60.
A whopping 63.8% of the participants said rapes can happen in a marriage.
Prof Dr Tania Haque of DU’s Department of Women and Gender Studies told Dhaka Tribune that rape culture has become deeply rooted in Bangladesh society and providing a crash course on preventing rape culture is not going to change the people’s mindset overnight.
“It is a process, and it should start with the family. The government and non-governmental organizations have a lot of projects for expecting mothers, educating them about maternity and childcare. If they could run a few projects for expecting parents to teach them how to groom their children against rape culture, a drastic change will happen in this society,” she told this correspondent.
She also said sex education should not be a hush-hush topic in schools and having a single chapter about reproductive health in textbooks is not enough.
“Sex education is not just about how our reproductive organs function. Topics like consent, rape culture and gender sensibility need to be included to change the mindset of an entire generation on rape culture,” she said.
The survey found that the majority of the respondents (72.2 %) said that providing sex education could be a way to prevent rape, while 71.1% think that capital punishment for rape is necessary. Moreover, 53% of respondents said addressing toxic masculinity and patriarchal values that normalizes rape could be a way to prevent rape.
In a recent talk show on rape culture hosted by Dhaka Tribune, noted women’s rights activist Shireen Huq said protestors on streets are screaming for the death penalty because they have lost their trust in the legal system.
Recommendations from the respondents
- Addressing rape culture at the family level
- Fostering mutual respect for the opposite gender
- Reforming rape law
- Stop victim-blaming
- Counseling for men and self-defence training for women
- Massive media campaigns against rape
- Teaching about consent
- Easy access to the legal system
- Speedy trial of rape and sexual abuse cases
* I have been molested by neighbours and strangers on the streets.
* I was molested when I was a 7-year-old. Then it continues everywhere, in shopping malls, in the workplace, in Pohela Boishakh celebration at Ramna Batamul. Enough is enough!
* I am a male and I was sexually harassed by a female family member when I was 10-year-old.
* I was touched inappropriately by random men in Bangladesh when I was just 13 years old. I was cat-called a lot by men in Bangladesh. I live abroad now and feel much safer. I have no desire to come back to Bangladesh because of the mere thought of living in that society scares me.
Research: Syed Abdullah Al Ahsan