9th October 2020

Erasing the Stigma Surrounding Victims of Sexual Assault

Fayola Maulida

Cases of sexual assault involve two parties - the perpetrator and the victim. However, victims of sexual assault are often targets of community exclusion. A negative attitude is associated with them, especially when the case is widely publicized. Words such as nakal (naughty) or pembangkang (disobedient) are often spread through word of mouth. As a result of these labels, victims face alienation and are further burdened. Most concerningly, their recovery slows down. So, what actions can we take to remove the stigma against victims of sexual assault?

Supporting the recovery of victims and their independence despite negative public assumptions can be done through various actions. The fight for complete elimination of victim blaming and stigma is a process made up numerous steps. Fundamentally, however, one must begin with educating oneself. Be brave to ask questions. What is stigma? Why does stigma grow?

What is stigma?

Stigma is a negative characteristic that sticks to a person's perceived personality due to the influence of his environment. Goffman (1963) states "the stigma as a sign or a mark that designates the bearer as 'spoiled' and therefore as valued less than normal people". As a result of this stigma, various individals have emerged who claim that victims of sexual violence are “naughty” or “untrue” individuals. As a result, they blame victims for their trauma.

Why does stigma grow?

Stigma can grow in society due to a lack of understanding. Not everyone understands what sexual assault is, along with the effects it can have on victims. Unfortunately, mass media has a big role to play in the growth of stigma as well. Media coverage often includes negative images of victims, the presentation of myths, stereotypes about sexual violence that are not necessarily true, and many other things that give negative connotations to victims. According to Link and Phelan (2001), stigma grows out of four processes: (1) human difference labeling; (2) stereotyping these differences; (3) separate the labeled individual from "us"; and (4) loss of status and discriminatory treatment against those who are labeled.

What is the effect of stigma? Why does stigma need to be eliminated?

The presence of stigma can have several impacts on victims. In full, the results of Phulf's research (in Simanjuntak; 2005) found several impacts or consequences of stigma:

  1. People who are stigmatized find it difficult to find help
  2. Stigma makes it even more difficult to restore the life of a stigmatized individual, because stigma can cause erosion of individual self-confidence, thereby attracting individuals from society.
  3. Stigma causes discrimination, so stigmatized individuals find it difficult to find accommodation and work.
  4. Society can be harsher and less humane to stigmatized individuals.
  5. The family of the stigmatized individual is humiliated and disturbed.

Furthermore, victims struggle with the thought that the stigma surrounding them defines them. This causes reluctance to report, follow up, or seek help for the sexual assault that they experienced. Fear of community alienation follows victims in their everyday lives, and dissuades many from seeking or receiving the help they sorely need. It’s important to note that delayed and slowed recovery for victims of sexual assault can cause serious physical and/or emotional wounds in the future.

What are the forms and components of stigma?

The components of stigma are as follows:

  1. Labeling: differentiating and labeling or naming based on the differences that the community members have.
  2. Stereotype: A conception of the nature of a group based on subjective and imprecise prejudice.
  3. Separation: The separation of "us" (as the party who does not have a stigma or giver of stigma) from "them" (the group that gets stigma).

What can we do to stop the stigma around victims of sexual assault from spreading?

  • Learn and understand the different forms of sexual violence. From there, differentiate between myths and facts surrounding sexual assault. Know that you have an active role to play in correcting the stereotypes that are circulating. Then, you can spread it to the public (this means your friends, family, classmates, or more!) in order to grow awareness of related matters.
  • Stigma arises from people's fear. Often, fear comes from confusing information in the public. The best step is not to spread unreputable news. This includes gossip, fake news, and speech that spreads hatred to victims. Verify all information you spread!
  • Give the victim space to process and understand the incident. Don't press the victim with questions. Make sure that the victim knows that they are not alone and that it is not their fault.
  • Avoid being judgmental and always offer support and assistance to victims of sexual violence.

After examining the varying traumatic influences that stigma has on victims, we have to take on a participative role to get rid of that stigma in our communities. To victims, remember that you can recover. We will always support you. It will take time, but it is not impossible.

To all, remember that there is no room for cases of sexual assault in Indonesia!


RR Dian Tristiana. 2017. Stigma. Merujuk kepada:

  • Goffman E. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. 2010. Labeling and stigma. In T. L. Scheid & T. N. Brown (Eds.), A handbook for the study of mental health: Social contexts, theories, and systems (p. 571–587). Cambridge University Press
  • Simanjuntak, W. 2005. Upaya Mengatasi Stigma Masyarakat pada Narapidana. Depok: Fakultas Psikologi UI.)
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