Breaking the Stigma of Sexual Violence Victims

Cases of sexual violence involve two parties, namely the perpetrator and the victim. However, victims of sexual violence are common targets of community dismissal. The negative stamp always sticks to the victim. Moreover, if the case has been known by the public. The word ‘bad’ or ‘dissident’ is often spoken by word of mouth. In fact, with the label pinned, the victim has more fear. Not only the burden, yet the recovery process becomes slow. So now, what action should we take to change this status quo?

Support for victims to recover and rise from the darkness of public assumptions can be implemented through various actions. The combat to eliminate stigma consists of various steps. However, the first movement that we can do is through self-education. This can be started by answering fundamental questions like what is stigma? Why does stigma grow?

What is stigma?

Stigma is a negative characteristic attached to a person because of the influence of one’s environment[1]. Goffman (1963) states “stigma as a sign or a mark that designs the bearer as         ‘spoiled’ and therefore as valued less than normal people”. This means that stigma is a sign or characteristic that indicates that the owner is carrying something bad, therefore considered lower than other people. As a result of this stigma, various views have arisen stating that victims of sexual violence are individuals who are ‘naughty’ or ‘disobedient’. Not a few also blames the victim for their sexual violence case.

Why does stigma grow?

Stigma can grow in society because of a lack of understanding. Not everyone understands what sexual violence is and its effects on the victims. The role of mass media in the growth of this stigma also has a big impact. From depicting negative images of the victim, presenting myths or stereotypes about sexual violence that are not necessarily true, and many more. According to Link and Phelan (2001), stigma grows from four processes: (1) labeling human differences; (2) stereotyping such differences; (3) separating those labeled from “us”; and (4) status loss and discrimination against those labeled.

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

The presence of stigma can have an impact on the victim. In specific, the results of Phulf’s research (in Simanjuntak; 2005) found that there are several impacts or consequences of stigma:

  1. Stigmatized people find it difficult to seek help
  2. Stigma makes it more difficult to restore the lives of stigmatized individuals because stigma can cause an erosion of individual self-confidence so that victims can be drawn from society.
  3. Stigma causes discrimination, so stigmatized individuals find it difficult to get accommodation and jobs.
  4. Society can be ruder and less human in stigmatized individuals.
  5. The families of stigmatized individuals become more humiliated and disturbed.

Further influences on the victim can be in the form of fears over the attachment of these stigmas, so that it grows the hesitancy to report, follow up, or seek help over sexual violence acts experienced by victims. The fear of the victim’s poor track record in the eyes of the public is like a phantom that follows. As a result of victims’ delayed recovery can provide a more serious injury for the future.

What are the forms and components of stigma?

The components of stigma are as follows:

  1. Labeling: Separation and labeling or naming based on differences owned by members of the community.
  2. Stereotype: Conception about the character of a group based on subjective and inaccurate prejudice.
  3. Separation: Separation of “us” (as parties who do not have a stigma) with “them” (groups that get stigma)[2].

What efforts can we make to stop this stigma?

  • Understand the forms of sexual violence. Also, learn about myths, facts, and stereotypes about the stigma. Know the truth and spread it to the public so that it develops awareness of related matters.
  • Stigma arises from people’s fears. Fear is often obtained from information that is confusing in the public. The best step is to avoid spreading news which truth are not yet known. From gossip, false information, and speech that spread hatred especially to the victims.
  • Give space to process and understand. It surely takes time for the victim to proceed with what happened. Don’t give too many questions and just make sure that they know it’s never their fault.
  • Avoid being judgmental and always offer support and assistance.

Analyzing the fact that various traumatic influences can affect victims due to the presence of stigma, it brings the urge for us to destroy it quickly. For victims, remember that there is always a chance to recover. It surely takes time, yet it’s not impossible. Finally, always remember that there is no more room left for cases of sexual violence in Indonesia!

Author: Fayola Maulida
Editor: Mellysa Anastasya
Translator: Faye Simanjuntak


  1. 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.)

[1] Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia V (2016)

[2] Clair, M. 2018. Stigma. Core Concepts in Sociology. Harvard.

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