Should victim shaming be punishable by law?

Should victim shaming be punishable by law?

Should victim shaming be punishable by law?

Victim blaming is not a new concept. Psychologist William Ryan coined this term to indicate a devaluing act where victims of the crime, accident or abuse are held completely or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.

The most recent well known example of victim shaming was the high-profile Chandigarh stalking case where Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP chief Subhash Barala, and his friend proceeded to stalk and attempt to abduct DJ and producer Varnika Kundu.

When a member of the Barala family, shared a photo of the victim in a Facebook post since deleted showing her with two men implying she was drunk at the time of the abduction attempt. Another post showed Varnika with alcohol to malign her character.

Victim shaming appears in such negative social reactions from legal, medical and even mental health professionals, apart from the media and the attacker too. Victim shaming has no boundaries.

In April 2017, footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping a woman too drunk to consent and Twitter users went on to call her a money grabber and a woman of low virtue so much so that she had to change her identity.

Victim Shaming Should be Punished By Law

1. No other way to bring powerful attackers to the book

When an attacker or abuser is from a wealthy, prestigious or powerful family, the result is that victim shaming becomes a reality. The attacker has a power differential which he/she exploits to bring the victim's image down. Only law can protect victims from further slander and negative publicity.

2. Protect the victim

Many times, the victims need protection. Whether they have gone to court or highlighted their case to the media, victims become vulnerable once they take on the abuser/attacker. In such a case, it becomes essential to safeguard the victim and protect him/her from further attacks by those with vested interest bent on a miscarriage of justice.

3. Change societal attitudes

Too often, the tendency even among high profile political leaders and influential people is to blame the victim. Republic Senate candidate Todd Akin even said “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy and Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks said it was poor etiquette rather than rape when he abused a sleeping woman, claiming she had consented to the act. With such attitudes and even top leaders often blaming victims of abuse, the societal change will only come if law takes its course.

4. Clear Laws

While a law on rape and sexual consent is clear, there is less clarity about how to protect the brave victim who chooses to name and shame the abuser/attacker and go to court. A law could change this and bring about more clarity on how to proceed against cases of victim shaming.

5. Prevent Trivialisation of Rape and Abuse

So many jokes are endemic about rape and domestic violence. Social media, many times, magnifies abuse and women harassment. Songs and shows are often centred around glorifying the act of abuse or even giving it publicity and bringing it to a level which trivialises the act. So many cases of rape and abuse go unreported and victim shaming is a reason for this. Bringing the perpetrators to court and carrying out due legal processes is a must, especially when instances of victim blaming are involved. Spreading a culture of pejorative, demeaning and prejudicial reporting on women and abuse victims is another aspect that a law on victim shaming would check.

6. Myths and Stereotypes About Abuse Victims Need to be Ended

There are so many jokes and media slurs that impact rape conviction rates. Widespread myths and stereotypes about rape victims provide ideas that could impact court decisions. Victims are even demonised in media to lead to a miscarriage of justice. Consider the case of victim blaming attitudes infiltrating the very institutions the abused depend on for support and justice.

Laws Will Not Work

1. Law Cannot Safeguard Victims and Prevent Shaming

The first and cardinal principle of a legal case is that all are equal before the eyes of the law. But unfortunately, society does not function this way. Laws are there in plenty, but still there is injustice. Consider cases like Ched Evans where the victim did not get a fair chance to protect herself against the influential and popular footballer despite laws in place. Laws also make assumptions that the process of investigation will be free and fair. This is not always the case. So, making a law would not solve the problem.

2. Influential people can bypass law

The same act, when committed by a common man is punished. But if a VIP were to commit abuse, they are let off. Consider the massive droves of criminal politicians sitting in the parliament with charges ranging from rape to murder. Even if a law for victim shaming was in place, cases of VIP individuals as abusers would go unpunished. Initially, Barala was arrested for a bailable offence and promptly granted bail. It was after public pressure, media intervention and steps taken by Varnika and her father, an IAS officer from Haryana, that Vikas was rearrested.

3. Victim Shaming is a social problem

Many view victim shaming from the prism of law and legal rules. But it is a social problem and unless society and communities change their attitude, law cannot take its course and ensure justice for the people who have been wronged.

A law on victim shaming would be an empowering move for the wronged individual. It will serve to protect and safeguard those who have been abused and attacked. Protecting the victim from further trauma and from being labeled is important. To do this, name and shame or court interventions should focus on the wrongdoer, not brandish, tarnish or trivialise the victim's plight.
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