My first introduction to the concept of victim blaming came about through an American TV show. Watching it on Star Network in the late 90s, I saw an episode where a lawyer struts about court carrying a slinky black dress a rape victim had been wearing when she was assaulted, blaming her choice of attire for being attacked. He wins the case. By the end of the episode, the victim had committed suicide, the assaulter was honing in on another girl and the lawyer was in deep remorse.
If only real life was as neatly wrapped up as fiction is.
Remorse is a feeling alien to Prime Minister Imran Khan. He is the ultimate alpha male, the kind that hunkers down on his beliefs, however much to the contrary the evidence may be. For such men, defending their statements becomes a matter of pride. Any admission that they were wrong or are better informed now would be a blow to their self-respect. Steadfastness to the wrong ideas is problematic even for a layman. For the prime minister of a country where sexual assault is almost endemic, it is disastrous.
This stubbornness to continue to talk about what women wear stems from a deeper problem.
Victim blaming is the easy way out for a national leader. He or she blames the victim for not being careful enough, or for not wearing the right clothes or flaunting their wealth, thus placing the onus of in ensuring a crime free society on the people. It absolves the ruler form the messier business of actually preventing crime. In Pakistan, that would have entailed wrangling in the mud with uncaring law enforcing agencies such as the police, the mine-trapped reckoning with the judiciary on inability to convict rapists, the stressful task of finding more funds for medical kits and trained personnel in public hospitals and the bureaucratic nightmare of somehow ensuring that all victims get legal representation. This is just too much work.
Much more difficult than selling the utopian fantasy of a just and fair society where the consequences of your actions carry retribution from your fellow citizens.
A less discussed aspect of Imran Khan’s statement is that in talking about women’s attire, he perhaps unintentionally but most assuredly displays empathy for the perpetrators. In effect, we are asked to examine the rapist’s feelings. We are required to take a deeper look at how he is not a “robot”. We are expected to understand how he was overwhelmed by his desires. We are called upon to reflect upon the society in which he lives. We must think of what compels that man to attack. The rapist almost becomes a victim himself, a casualty of the fierce desires that overtook him.
There is no other way of putting this: we are being asked to be sympathetic to the rapist’s predicament.
The whole saga of rape then becomes the simple matter of attributing blame to a man’s characteristics. External matters such as ensuring justice and punishment, well within the prime minister’s powers, simply fall to the wayside. The government is not responsible if a man could not control himself. But Bollywood and Hollywood surely are.
Too often, assault turns into an inquisition about the victim. What they were wearing, what time they had ventured out, what they were doing on that particular day and how they had lived their life till then. From the most developed countries to the least , the conversation about a high-profile rape or assault centres around a victim’s personal life. The personal choices that led them to this point, if you may.
We saw this when former CCPO Lahore, Umer Sheikh, blamed the victim of the motorway rape for not checking the fuel in her car and for selecting a deserted highway to drive home. After much uproar, Umer Sheikh apologised for his comments. Imran Khan has yet to do so. Anyone waiting for “I am sorry” from the prime minister will wait in vain.
Alpha males do not apologise.