What's Your Relationship With Your Rapist Like?
Last week, the BBC released the following headline 'Malaysia MP: Ok for rape victims to marry their rapists'. I think its safe to say that I was completely taken aback that such a thing could be thought, let alone said ever aloud.
In today's society where violence against women is an issue that is gaining continuous momentum, with women being encouraged now more than ever to speak up against sexual and domestic violence, I was taken aback by the idea that this could even be a logical thought in the mind of anyone let alone someone in a position of power that serves to protect the rights of a country and its citizens.
According to Shabudin Yahaya, the MP who made the claim, he said that marriage could help victims 'lead a better life; and that some of the 12 year olds girls who have been victims of rape were 'physically and spiritually' ready to get married, which I don't think that anyone except the individual who has been raped is capable of judging.
Some of you may remember a pretty controversial TED talk that aired October last year (2016) by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger. The TED talk focussed on how Thordis confronted Tom years after he raped her during their teenage romance in 1996, whilst both were on a student international exchange programme in Iceland. Thordis and Tom spoke about the aftermath of the incident and how they came to terms with it and most importantly to eventual forgiveness of Tom on Thordis' part. But what's interesting to me is that in the time after it happened whilst Thordis suffered in silence, felt insolated and had eventually alluded to having a breakdown, Tom on the other hand didn't immediately see the error of his ways or feel as though he had done something wrong.
It was only after a few months that he began to look back at the incident in hindsight and reflect on how his actions had a long term effect on both himself and Thordis. Tom was able to come to this realisation because he had time away from it to reflect on what happened and understand that his actions that night didn't fit into the boundaries of what is defined as consensual sex. So, herein lies my worry with what the Malaysian MP is suggesting, because if men are able to rape women and their behaviour goes pardoned through marriage, they will potentially continue to rape their now wives and see it as normal behaviour. Therefore, unlike Tom who had time away from the situation which ultimately led him to see how his treatment of Thordis that night was unacceptable, these men will not see how what they are doing is fundamentally wrong.
Now, I've never been in this position myself and would never wish it upon anyone but I can't imagine being able to take the same stance as Thordis towards my rapist. I mean this is someone who has no respect for you, and is driven by a purely animal desire to take something that they believe is theirs whether it is consensual or not. Isn't it meant to be our ability as humans to read and understand complex emotions what separates us from animals and gives us our humanity? The actions of rapists, to me, show that what humanity there is within them is severely diminished because inflicting that kind of raw LONG TERM physical and emotion pain upon another individual to me in inhumane.
Although Tom has since seen the error of his ways and together with Thordis provided an invitation for people on both sides of rape to discuss sexual violence in an open and honest way, I don't think that his behaviour can go unpunished. Although he showed remorse and growth in the sense that he understands how his actions are wrong and he would never do it again, the point is he still did rape a woman. A woman who believed she was in a loving relationship with him, who felt safe with him, who was vulnerable and most importantly as no rape survivor should ever be suggested to be was 'asking for it'. Whilst I respect and commend Thordis and Tom for coming forward and setting a unique and positive example regarding sexual violence, I don't think it's that easy to forgive and it certainly isn't for everyone which is something that they acknowledge.
That's why the words of Shabudin Yahaya both shock and scare me. Having figures in power say such things to people who believe in the power of government, may begin to normalise things like rape which is something that should NEVER be accepted as so. If you encourage people to marry their rapists, I don't think that it could help people 'lead better lives' if anything I think that it would lead to a life of fear for the victim, and give the perpetrator a sick sense of power knowing that they have committed such a crime and yet go unpunished and free to do it over and over again but this time its ok because your raping your wife?!
I think that although it is important for us to address sexual violence and discuss ways to help both individuals involved to understand how heal and address the issues, we still have to respect the sensitivity of the issue and not assume that a solution will be an easy find.