TW/CW: Rape, Sexual violence
Rape culture is an environment where sexual violence is prevalent. It is a set of cultural norms which undermines the severity of sexual violence against women. It is the product of faulty mindsets instilled in society where victims are often blamed instead of predators being held accountable. Issues like these are not brought to light enough and they further contribute to the impunity of the perpetrators.
Rape culture pressures women to sacrifice their freedoms in order to stay safe. Growing up, girls are often made to feel as though it is their responsibility to avoid being raped. They are burdened with restrictions to avoid receiving unwanted attention or provoking men. Many are well-acquainted with the endless chorus of "don'ts."
‘Don't wear short/skimpy clothing.’
‘Don't stay out too late.’
‘Don't go out alone.’
For the sake of their own safety, they lose out on countless opportunities.
A significant example of rape culture can be seen in recent events that circulated around Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam. The 17-year-old Malaysian schoolgirl exposed an example of rape culture among her classmates and teachers in a TikTok video. During a class focused on sexual education, the teacher made a joke with his students, that when translated from Malay said ‘if they want to rape someone, make sure they are above 18’. As a result, the boys in her class started laughing as though rape was a humourous subject. How did a class that was supposed to teach students the dangers of sexual violence end up ridiculing it and treating it as a laughing matter?
According to an interview with Malaysiakini, Ain had confided in her counsellor in hopes to seek advice. However, he shifted the blame onto her instead of providing guidance. He told her that she was being emotional because ‘she was a girl’ and continued to trivialise the situation as a harmless joke. Now, we grow up learning not to question authority figures, but what if they are not ethically correct? The students that are being subjected to this kind of teaching environment will soon grow into potential leaders who will lead this country. According to Healthline, having a safe space is crucial in any circumstance where you don’t have to feel as though you’re constantly walking on eggshells. In this context, teachers are responsible for creating a safe space for students to receive their education without inducing fear in them.
The video has gained more than 1.8 million views on TikTok since it was posted and has sparked conversations regarding sex education, sexual violence and victim-blaming throughout Malaysia. Social media users showed their support by leaving positive comments on her TikTok post and stood with Ain. The situation prompted Ain to start the hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace to highlight sexual violence faced by female students in Malaysia. The hashtag quickly got trending on Twitter. There have also been numerous sexual assault victims coming forward with their own stories. They revealed that they have been in the same situation as Ain and how they attempted to fight back but were alienated by their classmates and teachers. In the end, the perpetrators themselves did not get any action taken against them.
Even with the overwhelming support shown by netizens, it also came with its share of backlash. A few days after she published her videos and tweets, Ain received lewd remarks from strangers online as well as a rape threat from her schoolmate. Ain’s parents, worried for her safety, decided to report the teacher’s remarks and the rape threat to the police. “If we act like it’s normal, or keep brushing off such remarks as ‘mere’ jokes, my younger children will probably go through this, too with the same teacher,” said Ain’s mother in an interview with Reuters. The police as well as the Education Ministry vowed to investigate Ain’s complaint. On Apr. 29, the Women’s Ministry had called for strict action on jokes about rape, sexist remarks and body-shaming.
To that end, what can you really do? Sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate jokes to sexual harassment is only the tip of the iceberg. Below it lies a larger domain of deep-rooted psychological attributions of cultural victim-blaming and misogyny that are embedded in societal beliefs. There are countless ways to combat ignorance among the youth of Malaysia and it starts with what we teach boys.
NO means NO
Sexual education needs to be taken seriously. Oftentimes, teachers tend to gloss over the topic because it's considered taboo. We need to know that sexual education goes beyond sex — it is also about consent. Teach boys ‘NO means NO’, to be respectful, that a woman's clothing is not an invitation to get sexually assaulted. For once, let us really look at the problem — stop teaching girls to avoid getting raped. Instead, teach boys not to rape.
Stop trivializing rape jokes
Sexist humour, specifically rape jokes are never funny. Rape jokes are often perceived as harmless, except that it perpetuates Rape Culture. This culture not only seeks to normalise jokes, but also behaviours like victim-blaming, objectification, and violent acts. In reality, rape jokes create an environment where it is alright to perpetrate violence against women. Humour that justifies sexual violence is never acceptable under any circumstances. If you hear your friends joking about rape, call them out. Letting them go with a mere ‘boys will be boys’ will only promote misogyny and imply that it is okay to sexually harass women.
What a woman was wearing, how late she stayed out, how much alcohol she had to drink is not an invitation to rape her. It goes without saying that victim-blaming plays a big role in rape culture. It perpetuates fear among victims, making it harder for them to speak up. Before anything, it is important to listen to the victims. If someone you know comes to you, telling you that they have been raped, take them seriously, listen to them and be there for them. Keep in mind that people never ask to be sexually assaulted — ever.
Have zero tolerance
Friends, family or strangers — hold them accountable. If you witness someone having their consent violated, take direct action or get help from others if you are not able to. Find out how you can help someone who has been sexually violated by educating yourself on laws, rights, procedures and processes. Then if you find yourself in a position where you can prevent someone from being subjected to sexual violence, you can take the appropriate measures to help them. You being able to make an effort will make a big difference in their life. Remember that if you turn a blind eye, you are part of the problem.
It is really important for us to bring light to this issue and educate ourselves about the detriments of rape culture. If not, victims of sexual violence will continue to live in fear and never have a voice. It is 2021. We must not let predators walk free from their actions. If you or anyone you know is facing sexual violence, please seek help from AWAM or the Women's Aid Organization.
By Danelle Tan