Ending the victim-blaming culture

Lyna Mohamad

Violent acts are always choices that individuals make, yet the victims are the ones who receive negative responses, especially from their loved ones or social institutions.

This was underscored by founder and Executive Director of Project Women Brunei Nur Judy binti Abdullah during a recent workshop held in observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

“The scrutiny should befall violence itself – we must speak out against those who choose to use violence as a means to an end,” she said.

Workshop participants learned what victim-blaming and gender-based violence (GBV) are.

It aimed to raise awareness on the negative impact of condoning the culture of victim-blaming on GBV cases, to discuss the myths versus facts that surround victim-blaming and to recommend initiatives on how to end the culture of victim-blaming on all forms of GBV.

Titled ‘Ending the Culture of Victim-Blaming in Gender-Based Violence: Busting Myths with Facts’, the workshop was organised by Project Women and Girls Development (Project Women Brunei) with participants from various NGOs, self-organised women groups, corporate companies, various government agencies, healthcare professionals, universities, sports associations, counselling groups and policy-making bodies.

Participants at the workshop. PHOTO: LYNA MOHAMAD

Sharing on the 2019 Brief of The World Bank on GBV or violence against women and girls (VAWG), Judy said the publication revealed that GBV has become a global pandemic affecting one in three women in their lifetime and its report showed that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, while seven per cent of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner.

The staggering statistics show that women and girls around the world are victims of sexual, domestic and intimate partner violence every day and in addition, GBV knows no social or economic boundaries and affects women and girls regardless of their socio-economic status in the society where they live.

Based on the country research of WEAVE on Access to Justice on Sexual Violence of Girl-Children in Brunei Darussalam, sexual offences in 2016-2017 statistics showed eight out of 10 rape victims know their perpetrator.

Being a small country with close-knit family ties, it is not surprising to note that most victims of sexual violence know their perpetrator and this is similarly true for domestic and intimate partner violence. However, despite these statistics, there are still many cases that are underreported with one of the main reasons being victim-blaming.

Judy said the tendency to blame the victim of the crime rather than the perpetrator on cases of violence against women such as rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and domestic violence is a disturbing trend.

This creates a culture of victim-blaming leaving the victims/survivors shamed, traumatised and stigmatised in their lifetime. There is a need to end this culture, which requires a community-based, multi-pronged approach and sustained engagement with multiple stakeholders.

This includes raising awareness on the negative impact of victim-blaming on the physical, mental and emotional health of victims/survivors as well as busting myths that surround victim-blaming.

During the workshop, a dialogue session featured the panel including some of the surviving victims.

A set of recommendations of possible initiatives to end the culture of victim-blaming on all forms of GBV was also raised, along with an evaluation report of the dialogue and workshop.

Judy said the dialogue and workshop was a safe space for women and girls to learn about victim-blaming and exchange insights and reflections after hearing testimonies of victims-survivors of intimate partner violence.

She said the participants shared a common need and sense of urgency to help end the culture of victim-blaming as it hinders victims to seek help from relevant agencies.

The stigma and trauma for victims of being blamed for causing the act of violence against them by their abusers have devasting effects that can last a lifetime, if not addressed and treated.

These are women who want to understand deeper the theories behind victim-blaming and seek ways on how to help end the culture of victim-blaming and raise more awareness on violence against women and girls.

Most victims of intimate partner violence do not know that they are in an abusive relationship. In most cases, they withstand the abusive relationships all along and always hope that things will be alright as this may be just a challenge to not give up on their partner and their partner will change one day.

With things like this in mind, they never tell their parents or close friends about it for fear of being blamed and being a burden to them.

Often, the abuser would isolate the victim from her family and friends so he can continue to control and manipulate her, thus making it more difficult for the victim to reach out for help.

The workshop’s key message is to never trivialise the cases of violence against women and girls and any report must be investigated thoroughly.

Once a report has been lodged, the victims should not be blamed and be told that they are just being too “dramatic” as well as just “simply seeking attention”.

Victims who leave the abusive relationship shared that when the abuse became severely physical, this triggered them to leave as a survival instinct. They were encouraged by close friends and families to make the right choices and received full support. They were given a safe environment and assured that there is life after suffering from their abusers.