11 years ago, 10-year old Sitara from Sirajganj was raped by three men from her village. Her parents did not file a case against the rapists. The village came together, and after a “shalish,” caned the rapists as punishment. However, Sitara's mother left next year for her parents' house in Pabna along with 11-year old Sitara, never to return.
Sitara is now 21 years old, with a family of her own. But she still has not been able to get over what happened to her as a child. She still has to suffer name-calling and insults reminding her of the childhood trauma.
When Sitara's mother was asked why she left her village, she told the Bangla Tribune: “If only you knew how many people harassed my child. My daughter was in no way responsible for what happened. She was innocent. But the situation only worsened after everyone found out about the rape. Everyone used to tease her. I had to protect my daughter from the abuse. But even now, I am afraid that the word will spread here eventually.”
Moni from Dinajpur was a victim of rape when she was four years old. She came into the public eye after suffering grievous injuries during the assault, and received proper medical aid as a result. Although a year has passed since the incident, her family still bears the scars of the trauma, and Moni herself relives the incident because of the constant name-calling. Her mother is always trying to shield Moni from vicious onlookers. While weeping profusely, she told the Bangla Tribune: “I want to send her to the other side [to India].”
Sitara and Moni are only two examples of the many women and children who fight the trauma of their rape every day, trying to live a life away from society and people. The negative perceptions of society as well as wrongful accusations often drive many rape survivors to commit suicide.
Social scientists and psychologists have said: “Although the victims are not responsible for the traumatic incidents, they have to live their entire lives feeling that way. The relationship between the rapist and victim is always one of unbalanced power. Oftentimes the victims have to leave their homes because the perpetrators do not face justice.”
Feminist Khushi Kabir told the Bangla Tribune: “The women who are victims of rape have no fault in it. But they have to face the full force of society's repercussions. They do not receive justice, but have no space left in society to recover. Although some people show solidarity at first, the lack of a follow-up means that victims have to continue the struggle for their lives on their own.”
“Since the perpetrators usually have more power in society than the victims, it is quite obvious why it becomes impossible for those victims to continue living in that society. We have also failed in creating that kind of atmosphere in our societies,” she added.
Rokeya Kabir, Executive Director of Bangladesh Nari Progoti Shangha, believes that a lack of societal support system is at fault for the displacement of rape victims. She said: “If the government does not provide her with the necessary security, she will have to find that on her own. The state of our society is such that we unfairly judge the victim instead of the rapist.”
Prof Sadeka Halim from Dhaka University believes that such conversations are a step in the right direction. She told the Bangla Tribune: “Providing rape victims with special assistance draws further attention to them, and it is a very precarious matter to balance. We have to try to change society's perception of such incidents. If we can ensure justice, it might change how we think about the perpetrators and the victims. This is just as important as trying to help the victims themselves.”
Psychiatrist Mekhala Sarkar believes that society is ill-equipped to provide physical and mental support for victims of rape. She said: “The victims cannot escape their trauma and reintegrate back into society because of society itself. Society can erase their presence as well. They have to live feeling that they cannot be a part of society while being in it. This makes it impossible for them to live a normal life.”
*The names of the victims have been changed to protect their identities
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune