Safe Space Needed for Victims of Sexual Abuse/Harassment to be Believed

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)refers to recent media reports that Tariq Ramadan has been charged in France with rape on 2 February 2018, based on accusations made against him four months prior by two women.

As the rule of law and due processes are currently underway for what is now officially classified as criminal charges, we call for the creation of a safe and non-hostile environment for the victims of sexual assault to speak out. We also urge for parties who are unable to contribute in assuring the creation of this safe space to distance themselves from making judgement that would act in contrary to this effort.

This incident brings focus to the larger issue that there is still fear among victims of sexual violence and assault to come forward and speak up. This fear derives from social stigmatisation and intimidation – two factors that contribute to the victim feeling distrusted and unsafe especially throughout the legal proceedings of her case.

Thus, any institutional organisation’s support for Tariq Ramadan would signify to survivors of sexual assault that their safe space to speak out and to report such violations is not even fully assured among civil society organisations. Public allegations of rape and harassment which are sexual in nature are traumatising for women to make.

This predicament is underscored even further when alleged perpetrators are, as they often happen to be, in positions of power and influence. It must be noted that it took 20 years before victims of Larry Nassar would speak out. The #metoo campaign which recently swept and shocked the world exposed alleged assault events which date as far back as the 1980s (as in the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein).

The revelations of such acts of sexual violations point to one crucial reality: That it is easy to silence women from speaking out and to intimidate them think that no one will believe them. This call for a safe space for women to speak up in no way prematurely vilifies the alleged perpetrator.

Support for women who are victims of sexual violence and harassment by women’s rights groups and feminists stems from our personal and collective experience that too often in a patriarchal society, women and gender non-conforming people are not believed when they choose to speak up against their aggressors. As validated by the #metoo campaign, when a safe space is created via solidarity, women are more courageous in coming forward to report such assaults.

Such is the case for Henda Ayari, who stepped forward with rape allegations against Tariq Ramadan after five years of silence. We strongly believe that support and protection for victims accorded by the criminal justice system for allegations of rape and sexual assault should begin from the time the report is made to the final judgement in court.

The fact that violence against women is still so prevalent speaks of the ongoing challenges faced by women in seeking justice and redress. Hence, to end violence against women, men must reflect on their privileges and speak up, more so when they know that sexual violence and sexual harassment is perpetrated by a “bro.”

In a world of changing cultural values of modern society, women’s rights along with other human rights groups have an important responsibility to stand up in solidarity to create safe spaces for victims of sexual violence and sexual harassment. We will not stay silent regardless if it is only one woman who is claiming sexual violence or sexual harassment by a perpetrator.

Endorsed by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG):
1. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
2. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
3. Perak Women for Women (PWW)
4. Association of Women’s Lawyers (AWL)
5. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
6. Justice for Sisters
7. Women Center for Change
8. All Women Action Society (AWAM)
9. Sabah Women Action-Resource Group (SAWO)
10. TENAGANITA

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