A question arose in my mind – was there even a single day in the world when no woman was assaulted or raped?
It is very hard to answer since when women were treated as a subject of exploitation for time immemorial. The documentation of sexual assaults dates back to ancient days, or since mankind started recording history.
According to Greek historians, sexual violence on women is an ancient phenomenon and evidence suggest it dates back to 376 BC, during the rise of Alexander the Great.
Islamic religious studies depict rape as a form of social injustice, war weapon and a form of entertainment in the Jahelia era.
Statistics show that 11,682 rapes were reported in the last 10 months in Bangladesh. However, there are thousands of unreported cases which were not recorded by the police or dropped under duress or through monetary settlements for as low as just Tk 10, 000.
Moreover, interference by political and influential people, withdrawal of cases as a result of offensive questions to the victim at court and in police custody, forced marriage with the offender, dismissal of cases due to loss of evidence, have not been accounted for in these statistics.
Many people blame a woman's attire as a reason for inviting rape! Does that mean all the rape victims wore attires that have a sexual connotation?
I was in class four or five when I read the word "rape" in newspaper headlines. Before this, I thought rape can happen to adults and exposed women only.
Everything became clear to me when the brutal rape and murder of a doctor took place in her chamber. She used to cover herself with a hijab.
My bones were shaking when I was reading about a little girl who jumped into a pond to save herself from being raped but eventually died after drowning. At that age, I realised that there is no correlation between a woman's attire and rape.
If attire is to blame - why was the housewife - who does not know anything about explicit clothing - raped inside her house?
A few weeks back I conducted a survey on 2,000 women for a research purpose. The questionnaire was focused on their experiences of harassment based on attires they wear regularly.
Around 57 percent of women said they wear regular clothes (mostly with scarf or dupattas). Around 43 percent said they wore covered clothes like veils, layers, hijab, burqa, niqab, khimar.
As the question was about harrassment - I did not find much difference between the regular wearer and the modest wearer when it came on the assaults they faced.
As the research was designed to stay anonymous, we received real stories of sexual abuses by close relatives, in childhood and vivid experiences of molestation.
Many women testified that even after wearing burka they had been harassed
One woman wrote - "I started wearing a hijab to protect myself from men, but soon I realised - women's bodies are well recognised by predators, they know what is inside".
Another woman wrote that she was harassed at AK Khan bus stand in Chittagong, by a hand coming out from between two seats in the bus – she was wearing a loose salwar kameez with long sleeves.
Another woman wrote – she was harassed by a van driver who used to take her to school when she was a fourth-grader. Only a pervert can harass a girl of that age.
If a person already has the mindset to rape someone, he is going to do it. Each time there is a victim of sexual violence, the first accusation that comes is – she must have been wearing something provocative! Victim blaming is a social pathology which needs to be cured. Only the rapist is to blame and be punished.
Dress codes do not stop sexual assaults. A Federal Commission on Crime of Violence study found that - women with passive personalities, who tend to dress in layers, long pants and sleeves and high necklines, are more likely to be raped. Even in my research, most women who are habituated to covered attires claim that they are treated as weak/vulnerable!
An exhibition took place at Brussels, named "What were you Wearing" - a project created by the students at the University of Kansas. They recreated outfits worn by people when they were raped and assaulted and killed.
If you google you can see the victims were wearing regular clothes - what we call modest. Young girl's frocks and shoes were also there. There was even one Nun's gown!
What does this tell you?
If we recreate our Bangladeshi women's attires when they were raped/assaulted - you will see Shari, kameez, dupatta, burqa, hijab, school dresses, doctor's gowns etc. and hardly any explicit attires!
The girl – Yasmin - who was raped and murdered by policemen – was found in a bloodied salwar kameez. Tonu used to wear hijab. Nusrat - who was assaulted and burnt by the madrassa principal and gang - maintained strict Islamic attire – Burqa.
The recent gang-raped woman at MC college was in a burqa and also accompanied by a husband. Just a week back, a 70 years old woman was raped when she stepped out of home for Udhu.
Even male children and vulnerable men are even raped by stronger men/ groups! Any person of any gender, age, race, class, religion, occupation, physical ability, sexual identity – can be raped!
'Attire provokes rapists and rape happens because of what she was wearing' is a myth that has been thoroughly debunked.
Ishrat Binte Rouf can be reached at email@example.com