While rape apologists were busy with victim blaming on social media, no fewer than 1,627 people were raped last year
Some blamed her for going to the empty flat of her alleged rapist and murderer willingly, many questioned her intention to mingle with friends of the opposite gender, a number of people blamed her mother for not teaching her social values and mores, while others blamed her for not wearing clothes in accordance with Islamic law.
Before the court could decide if Fardin Iftekhar Dihan, key accused in the case filed for the rape and murder of the O Level student, is guilty or not, scores of social media users have instead put the victim and her family on trial and judged them guilty.
They found the victim guilty of going to Dihan's empty house of her own accord. They found her mother guilty of not teaching her social norms.
And, most depressingly, they found her guilty of “getting” raped.
On January 7, the victim was reportedly raped at the accused’s home in Dhaka’s Kalabagan area and pronounced dead on arrival at a nearby private hospital.
According to a forensic expert of Dhaka Medical College, the victim died from haemorrhagic shock.
As soon as the news broke out, an overwhelming number of netizens began a social media witch-hunt to figure out what the girl did that caused the alleged rape to take place in the first place.
In Bangladesh, such a reaction is not uncommon when the news of a rape incident comes to the limelight.
Social thinkers and activists said that the advent of social media and easy access to the internet have given an agency to individuals to voice their opinions but not everyone is using it the right way.
Social media platforms have become useful outlets for individuals to voice their opinions, but unfortunately, a large number of people use them to propagate victim blaming.
Dr Zia Rahman, professor of criminology at Dhaka University, said these types of social media users believe that being a rape apologist would earn them lots of support and appreciation as there are countless like-minded people on the cyberspace.
“Sadly, the ratio of progressive and close-minded people on social media is very imbalanced. If a person tries to write something against the perpetrator, many will jump right in to defend the offender and blame the victim,” Prof Zia told Dhaka Tribune.
One only needs to go through the comment sections of most rape related news on social media platforms to determine the accuracy of Dr Zia’s remarks regarding rape apologists. A significant number of people tend to blame female rape victims or rape survivors for wearing what they call provocative clothes, having freedom of movement, going out with men, working late at night, mixing with male co-workers and having friends of the opposite gender.
The professor said conducting social media campaigns against rape apologists and to inform people why victim blaming actually fuels rape culture and discourages victims from speaking up could be a good solution to this issue.
Role of education, family and religion
Tania Haque, professor at the Women and Gender Studies Department of DU, told Dhaka Tribune that she has been advocating for including sex education in the school curriculum for a long time because she thinks youths get distorted and perverted ideas about sex from pornographic contents online.
“Family also has a big influence on these young people’s lives. If a boy witnesses his father disrespecting his mother, there is a high possibility that he would not think twice before making demeaning comments about women on social media,” she said.
Prof Tania Haque also pointed out that religious preachers made derogatory comments on women in their sermons, which spread like wildfire on social media. As a result, their followers also thought that it was okay to make derogatory remarks about women, which further aggravated the situation.
One of the most common statements one can see on social media is that if a rape survivor or victim dressed herself following the Islamic code, she would not have been raped.
A very popular analogy that is used to motivate women to wear hijab is that women are like candies and rapists are like flies. A candy that is wrapped is not swarmed by flies. Rape apologists frequently use this analogy to prove their point that women who “expose” themselves invite rapists and sexual offenders.
Rape apologists can be found among celebrities and public figures too.
Actor Ananta Jalil posted a video from his verified Facebook account last year asking women to not wear “revealing” clothes in order to protect themselves from getting raped.
He later deleted the video after it was widely criticized by a certain section of people. However, the damage was already done; the video hit a million views before deletion and a large number people praised Ananta for saying “the right thing”.
Rokeya Kabir, executive director of Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha, said the law enforcement agencies should keep an eye on people who try to justify rape as they could be potential rapists.
“People who make comments on social media defending rapists and sexual offenders are not people from a different planet. They were born and raised in this society and their comments on social media reflect our social norms and conservative mindset,” she told this correspondent.
Rokeya thinks it is high time that progressive and liberal social media users started calling out people who blame rape victims on social media.
“People should actively call out rape apologists on social media and report it to their workplace if possible,” she added.
She also suggested that the Cyber Crime Unit of police should take this issue seriously and act promptly if they got any complaints.
While these social media users were busy with the character assassination of rape victims, a total of 1,627 people were raped in 2020, among whom 53 were murdered afterwards, and 15 committed suicide due to the trauma, according to the human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra.