19th January 2021

Pseudo-Sympathy Wrapped in Stigma

(Warning: this article may bring up memories of past sexual violence)

In this world, no one wants or deserves to experience sexual violence for any reason. Sexual violence is an act that undermines the dignity of a human being, yet occurs every day.

Trauma, fear, regret, self-blame, and loneliness are feelings often experienced by victims of sexual violence. After the assault, victims still have to bear the stigma attached to them, which is largely accompanied by acts of discrimination from their immediate community.

Often, people state scathing comments, saying that their future is ruined, or that their worth is less because they are no longer a virgin. Others express worry that no one will want to marry the victim because they are “used goods”. The pity in these words are supposed to express sympathy, but only expose the harmful judgement from many actors. The stigma surrounding sexual assault is, unfortunately, widespread. These sentences terrorize the psychological wellbeing of victims of sexual violence, who face numerous hardships in their journey of healing.

Victims commonly look to plan their future and transition into a new space. When people state that sexual assault “ruins” a victim’s future, the community has unwittingly killed the hopes of victims. It weakens the position of the victim and ignores the difficulty and pain they are currently going through. It excludes them from their families, work environment, school and daily social environments. A double standard is at work here - the community looks at the victim with pity, but also considers them a despicable creature. Surprisingly, this view is rarely directed at the perpetrator, especially if the perpetrator has a strong social and economic status in society.

In the second sentence, victims who have experienced sexual violence are deemed to be worthless because they have lost their virginity. This statement reveals a sinister idea: that respect for women is only limited to her virginity. Many use the flawed logic that their torn hymen is evidence of worthlessness. When the hymen is torn, they say, the entire woman's body is considered defective. Then drawing the conclusion that the woman does not deserve respect. However, the hymen has been proven not to prove virginity. Regardless, this narrative often results in victims blaming themselves and being trapped in situations of recurring violence. This sentence actually adds to the suffering of victims of sexual violence.

Why did this happen?

In general, Indonesia has an overwhelmingly powerful patriarchal culture. This perspective often controls women's bodies, and creates the image of ideal women who are required to have a feminine character and a perfect body to meet the expectations of men. In this case, ideal women in the eyes of patriarchy are virgins who can “save themselves” for marriage, because it will make their husbands happy.

This demand applies heavily to women, but we rarely hear of the same demands on men. When women experience rape, they are considered unclean and will be disrespected. Surprisingly, Indonesian people actually feel sorry for their boyfriend or the person who will become her husband in the future. There, we further see the glorification to the men who “still” marry the victim. It supposedly showed that they were very good men who wanted to marry their “unholy” partner. The victim is also reminded to consider herself very lucky to have married that man. This viewpoint of society emphasizes that society is still not supporting victims of sexual assault.

Then how do you empathize with victims of sexual violence?

What victims need most is a safe space, free from stigma and judgment. There are times when victims just need to be heard to release all the burdens of suffering they are experiencing.

At this time, listen properly. Listen carefully, don't interrupt, or cut off sentences in a rude manner. Wipe away the tears and make sure that the victim is not alone and doesn't blame themselves. Tell them that you are ready whenever they need you. Don't miss asking how they are doing and giving small, meaningful attention to them. Offer a meeting for coffee together. Choose positive sentences to strengthen the victim, for example, "You are not alone, I am ready whenever you need me." or "I am sorry for what happened to you. You are not alone” or “ I'm sorry about what happened to you. I'm sure you can get through this difficult situation. "

Victims need a supportive environment so that they can process their trauma and properly recover. In the future, they can live a social life, and be able to develop their best potential as a dignified and empowered human being. It is not enough to be empathetic just to say “sorry”. We must take participative steps to fight the stigma in our communities. Provide justice and treat victims equally.

Author : Linayanti

Editor : Mellysa Anastasya

Translator: Faye Simanjuntak

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