Today I was lucky enough to have Julie Bindel, feminist campaigner and journalist for The Guardian (among many other publications), speak to members of my course about an upcoming project. Without going into details, the project surrounded domestic violence towards women and children, and the financial costs to our government and country that it incurs. It got me thinking about a story I recently read here. Here are the basics –
In 2006, a Saudi woman was raped by a group of men, and subsequently sentenced to 90 lashes as punishment. Punishment you say? Yes, she broke the Sharia law of being outside with a man who was not her blood relation. Now this is where the story REALLY gets messed up. Her lawyer objected to this decision and spread the word of injustice throughout the media – this netted his client an increase to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison. ‘There are ways to object a decision without alerting the media’ was the rough and clearly terrible excuse given by the Saudi judicial system.
Now, I’m not here to berate another cultures customs and laws, however much I disagree with them. But this is an absolutely intolerable example of a total lack of care and compassion towards a sexual violence victim. If the girl wasn’t raped, okay, maybe give her some sort of punishment. I understand that you have to abide by the laws of the land you live in – but isn’t being raped by a group of multiple men a far more severe punishment than she could possibly have ever deserved?
Julie’s project wants to get straight to the core of sexual/domestic violence problems, and I couldn’t agree more with her principles. Why focus on treating victims when that money is better spent preventing the problems in the first place? The government needs to make far clearer examples of the sick men who commit these acts. Laws need to be stricter and prosecutions harder. That is a point I don’t think many people would disagree with. I know for a fact that if anyone in my own personal circles did anything so vile, they would be publicly named, shamed and stigmatised. But I also understand that not all social circles are the same.
And that brings me to my main point of contention with the dealing of abuse victims and their attackers. We need to do more to fundamentally make people understand that domestic violence is a real crime with real consequences – because there are still those out there who don’t quite get it. It needs to be obvious and apparent that victimising and abusing anyone more vulnerable than yourself, be it physically or psychologically, is utterly unacceptable both under the law and in all social groups. The downplaying of sexual violence fits in with the institutionalised patriarchy in our societies, and too many people (especially young men), seem to accept and even proliferate a womanising culture. We need to change this way of thinking before everyone will understand what many of us see as the obvious. After all, how will anyone ever see the error of sexual abuse, and how will the victims ever speak up, if those attacked are condemned to 200 lashes?