The stereotype of scantily-clad women inviting rape is a myth perpetuated by the sermon.
KUALA LUMPUR: EMPOWER, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti, has alleged that the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) has released a Friday sermon claiming that women covering their “aurat” would prevent rape.
“Once again, rape victims are blamed while rapists are absolved of responsibility over their actions,” said Yasmin Masidi, EMPOWER’s Communications and Media Officer, in a statement. “The Friday sermon was not only appalling, it was a wasted opportunity to educate the public on the realities of rape and how we can support rape victims instead of shaming them.”
Instead, Yasmin added, the message that it gives to rapists and potential rapists is that they can wash their hands clean of any personal responsibility over their actions, as long as they can justify in their minds that the victims were “asking for it”.
Women who wear headscarves, such as the late Noor Suzaily Mokhtar, were raped, she pointed out. “The late Ang May Hong, Hasirawati Saridi, Nurul Huda Abdul Gani, and Nurin Jazlin Jazimin, young girls in modest clothing, were raped.”
In 2010, in about half of all reported rape cases, the victims were children under the age of 16, she stressed.
Will JAIS insist on blaming the victims over their dressing too?
What about boys who are raped? How would JAIS suggest that they be dressed “appropriately”?
“The harsh reality is that there is nothing women or men, for that matter, can wear that will protect them from rape,” said Yasmin.
Instead of focusing on the victims, she said, institutions like JAIS should turn their scrutiny to the perpetrators, and work together with women’s groups to inculcate values of respect and integrity in schools as part of an anti-rape campaign.
It would be an incredibly important role to play in an environment where myths about rape and sexual behaviour are passed off as facts by not only public institutions but political leaders, she continued. Among examples, she cited the PAS ulama wing’s information chief Dr. Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali who claimed that sex education would lead to young people watching pornography and higher rates of teen pregnancies.
Unfortunately, she noted, the Malaysian Police no longer releases statistics on rape to the public, and women’s groups who managed to obtain those statistics are forbidden from sharing them openly.
However, she said, available data refutes JAIS’s assertions. In a majority of cases (3,462 out of 4,586 reported rape cases in 2007), the figures show the perpetrator was known to the victim. These perpetrators include fathers and male relatives who would be considered “muhrim”.
How would covering up protect women and girls in this situation?
Women are not objects that need to be controlled and dominated.
The same figures show that a disproportionate number of rape victims are children, rather than the mythical stereotype of scantily-clad women perpetuated by the sermon.
“It is mind-boggling that a public institution like JAIS continues to openly perpetuate rape myths without any indication that it has done due diligence on its assertions in the sermon,” said Yasmin.
Even a cursory reading of research into sexual assault would show that women’s dressing was not the cause of rape, she reiterated.
The roots of rape lie in misogyny and the dynamics of an unequal power relationship between men and women, said Yasmin, where women are seen as objects that need to be controlled and dominated. The only intervention with a guaranteed measure of success in preventing rape, she advocated, was to change the societal mindset that produces rapists in the first place.
This means teaching children that no human being is an object to be possessed, and that they have to respect another person’s right to bodily integrity. “It means that all of us have to lead by example and practice gender equality in our everyday lives instead of giving lip service to only the economic aspect of women’s empowerment,” she said.