A complex problem that requires multiple perspectives
The rape of a university student in the capital indicates that women travelling alone are vulnerable to abuse. This is true everywhere in the world.
The rape created outrage because reportedly, the victim was taken not too far away from the main road by the attacker.
The perpetrator has been shown to be a drug dealer, plus a serial rapist, though the drug which he used to take has not been specifically mentioned.
From about a decade’s experience about writing on drugs, especially yaba, one can say that such crimes are often committed by those who are yaba addicts. In fact, if a survey is done on crime committed by drug users, the results may show that the most heinous acts are committed by those using yaba.
Methamphetamine not only makes a person hyper, it also triggers a feeling of invincibility bordering on recklessness. Research is needed to find the correlation between yaba use and brutal crime.
Children are targets
But the drug aspect is one side of the rise of rapes in the country. One other pressing issue is the rise of abuse of minors.
In 2019, more than a thousand children became victims of rape; by that account, on average, 84 children were raped every month. A report from the Bangladesh Shishu Forum states that last year, 4381 children faced a variety of abuse. Of this, 2088 children had unnatural deaths and 1383 were victims of sexual violence. Overall, sexual abuse has risen by over 70%.
The question is, what is behind the perverted nature involving the abuse of children?
The common answer, which is completely vague and never proves anything, is the line “erosion of moral values” and decadence. Well, values and sexual urges are two different things. One may say that ideals give us the ability to suppress certain instincts. But no one asks if suppression of desire is right or not, or if this repression of primal instinct can lead to grave psychological complications later in life.
From time to time, exhortations are made to abide by religious norms, though when children are found raped in places of worship, the efficacy of such appeals face a big question mark. Not talking objectively about the social problem and swiftly trying to find a superficial solution involving outmoded moral teachings only sidesteps the issue.
What we are trying most of the time is forcing people to admit that if they follow a certain lifestyle, all will be perfect. It’s easy to set down a list of restrictions and puritanical behaviour. How practical they are is never discussed elaborately.
Some also point to the past, saying that 30 years ago society was less predatory, people had more values, and abuse and exploitation were not this alarming.
In the 70s and 80s, rape was low in Dhaka because there were two major brothels: The English Road red light area and the sprawling one in Tanbazar, Narayanganj.
In the late sixties, the area in Nilkhet, which is now known as the second hand book market, also housed quarters of sex workers.
Naturally, when carnal instinct became too powerful to contain, people went there, keeping a restraint on aberrant behavior.
But these red light areas were shut down on the grounds that they were vitiating social norms and tarnishing morals.
The structures were abolished, though very little effort was made to rehabilitate the women working there. Consequently, many became floating sex workers, vulnerable to manipulation and easily persuaded to work as drug sellers.
Break the cocoon of puritanism
The demolishing of red light areas did more harm than good because sex workers who had a secured area and lived in a community were forced to come out on the streets.
Small shacks are put up in the dark, dimly lit by kerosene lamps and in addition to providing physical relief, these establishments, often hidden by the darkness plus the bushes, are selling spots for drugs.
Obviously, when drugs are involved, crime cannot be too far away. Anyone walking alone can be an easy target of addicts, sellers, and others rascals.
Breaking the red light areas gave a very superficial satisfaction of virtuosity, though the situation only became worse.
The problem is that years of peddling morals and ideals prevent us from being realistic. We either address something as completely impeccable or totally vile. However, real life often means a compromise between the two to accept something which is neither virtuous nor a vice -- but something that is realistic.
In countries where there is huge pressure to put up a conservative and devout face, issues of sexuality become entangled in misconceptions plus twisted interpretations.
As rapes are rising, the solution should be through candid discussion devoid of unnecessary prudishness. Most people living in a community are of flesh and blood, with frailties; the persistent effort to exhort everyone to be an ascetic simply won’t work.
Of course, values need to be taught, though it would be absurd to expect words of wisdom to act as a deterrent. They work as a palliative, not a panacea. We need to shed the hypocrisy and pinpoint the flaw.
Regulated red light areas operate in major cities of the world not only to provide physical relief but also to keep crime levels low. It’s a necessary vice but with constant monitoring on health, crimes, and exploitation, can be run to benefit sex workers who are manipulated on the streets without proper institutional support.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka