Trial by social media makes a bad situation worse
Rape culture is becoming increasingly contagious for both our society and country. According to Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), about 1,093 women and children had been raped from January to October in 2020 and of the total number of victims, 205 women were gang-raped. We don’t want any woman being raped or sexually assaulted. But if we want to solve the problem in an effective manner, we not only should look into the rape incidents, but also at other aspects. Social media and victim blaming are two of those vital issues.
A country of 163 million people, Bangladesh has almost 36 million social media users. When any news starts getting attention on social media platforms, it spreads as fast as light, not wind. Then starts an exchange of perception, posting, commenting, sharing, and most painfully, blaming.
When a female is raped, many people blame the victim -- why was she outside, why was she alone, what was she wearing, what’s her family like, etc. But now, social media has made the extent much worse. As we observed with the recent rape case involving a Dhaka schoolgirl, when that news got viral on social media, a huge number of users lashed out.
Some of them blamed the victim, questioning why she went to Dihan’s flat. Some remarked that English medium students are brazen and that the victim intended to be intimate with Dihan and thus it was her fault.
On the other hand, opposing parties posted pictures of Dihan and his friends -- who were taken into custody as the rapists -- without confirmation. After the preliminary investigation and DNA test, it has been found that Dihan acted alone and there was no proof of any involvement of his friends.
While his friends have been released, the fact is that they have been portrayed as rapists and their characters have been assassinated brutally in front of the country. According to the criminological perspective, it is termed as “labelling” which means even a petty offender is labelled as a criminal to society for life and that creates huge psychological pressure.
Moreover, Dihan’s family background has also been dragged into the spotlight, suggesting that his family background made him do these kinds of heinous acts even though his family had zero idea and were not home at the time of this incident.
Will Dihan’s family and his friends, who were either accused of rape or being accomplices, be able to lead a normal life in our society? Will they have to carry the burden of a murder for their whole life? Will they be able to safely move among the people?
Every citizen of Bangladesh has freedom of thought, conscience, and speech according to Article 39 of the Constitution. But that does not mean we can hurt others’ reputation through our perception. We want the highest punishment for the perpetrator but we should attack neither the victim’s character and her intentions nor Dihan’s family and his friends without proof of their guilt. The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty.” Dihan has confessed that he acted alone after calling the victim to his flat. So we should not bother others who were not actively involved in this criminal act.
Victim blaming is a fairly common occurrence in our country. In order to prevent victim blaming and protect the victim, the government should introduce a victim protection act and ensure that stern action is taken against anyone violating the law. It must also be ensured that such an act addresses all sectors of victim protection discreetly, such as physical protection against the offender, mental health support to deal with trauma, anxiety, depression, etc, and protection from victim blaming both in practical life and social media.
Especially, the cyber-crime authorities must adequately respond to the incidents of victim blaming on social media. Again, the issues we have discussed above can be considered as a result of a lack of awareness and proper knowledge on the issue. Hence, the government should take adequate measures to broadly introduce the concepts of “conscience,” “morality,” and especially the concept of “consent” to the general people.
Various workshops, seminars, and teachers training programs should be held frequently in schools, colleges, and madrasas of both urban and rural areas of the country. Moreover, a huge socio-psychological change is needed in order to stop labelling an accused as a criminal, irrespective of proper evidence.
The media can also play an important role in raising awareness among the public. Different programs and advertisements focusing on these issues can help raise awareness. Lastly, and most importantly, sex education must be included as a mandatory subject in the national, international, and madrasa curriculum. In this regard, more initiatives like the “Sex-Reproductive Health Educations” project should be launched.
John Rawls, in his book A Theory of Justice wrote: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” That is why we should ensure justice, not through a media trial or social media spotlighting, but by doing what is required.
Sakin Tanvir is a student at the Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka. Tarazi Sheikh is a student of law at BRAC School of Law, BRAC University.