Stop the Silence about Sexual Abuse!

05 Oct,2018


By Ranjona Banerji


Between the #MeToo movement, the US Senate’s questioning of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh over allegations of rape, Tanushree Dutt’s accusations of sexual harassment against Nana Patekar, we also have several younger women filling social media with stories of harassment and abuse from well-known men within their world. It is a horror story from the point of view of all these women, the humiliation, the fear and the destruction of self that they go through because of these particular abusive men they have encountered or are involved with.

And, as with all such accusations, they have the social trial that they go through. Where they are doubly, shamed, humiliated, abused, harassed and harangued. For having the courage to speak out and the temerity to accuse a man and thereby ruining his “reputation”.

So, let’s get it out there, up front: Yes, false accusations can ruin someone’s reputation. And lest you forget and start getting excited, remember that real accusations usually destroy the accuser’s life under the laws of patriarchy which bind us. And the perpetrator gets away with it.

Culpability, complicity and silence is where we in the media demean ourselves and our vocation.

Regardless of whether Kavanaugh becomes a US Supreme Court judge or not, the whole country and enough of the world saw Christine Blassey-Ford and Kavanaugh being interrogated. And also saw how a woman gets excoriated by the system for having the courage to speak out about a very traumatic episode of her life. Because she spoke out so late she must be lying is the argument and that is nothing but a version of the one that says she wore a short skirt to she asked for it. And looking at how a dignified college professor in her early 50s was torn apart during and after her testimony, why should anyone wonder that more women do not speak out?

The Tanushree Dutta versus Nana Patekar case is very similar. He is a well-known film star; she had a short career, short in fact because she complained about Patekar 10 years ago. But today, when she speaks about it again, she is accused of not bringing it up. She is vilified once again. Her career was ruined then; her character is being destroyed now.

Even worse, it now seems that everyone knows about Patekar’s behaviour, but it is indulgently tolerated because he is talented! And close to a political party. The same argument has been applied to Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan. And there are others in the Indian film industry who are no better and a whole lot worse. And the system is geared so that they get away with it and their victims shut up and put up with it. Or else.

How many stories and investigations have film journalists done on sexual abuse within the film world? Almost nothing. It’s all gossip and boys will be boys and I can’t upset my sources and I need access. Much like some political reporters and almost all business “journalists”.

Before I go further, I would like to quote from a Facebook post by well-known defence lawyer Rebecca John, who fights several such cases. She’s talking about the toxic atmosphere that women who complain about sexual abuse have to face in the legal system:

“Let me share the real story of a woman who complained spontaneously, and without delay and therefore passed the “truth yardstick” that has been erroneously set for all women. A case was registered many, many years ago. What happened? She still waits for it to effectively start. Why? Because the rich and powerful man who opposes her, has moved court after court on one pretext or the other, engaging a battery of equally rich and powerful lawyers, and the trial has been stalled. Ever since her complaint many, many years ago, she has been targeted and defamed. For so many years, she has waited patiently and quietly to tell her story in court.

“What has he done? He has made it clear that he doesn’t care for the process but wants to exit without a trial. I want to ask our courts: who gets punished here, the victim or the perpetrator? I want to ask some of my friends who knowingly and unfeeling participated in the process of his rehabilitation – whether they know or recognize the daily ordeal suffered by the woman? Whether they ever bothered to reach out to her when he and his family were busy making wild, baseless allegations against her. “She, by the way, is a real person, but suffers in anonymity because the law likes to keep her that way – to prevent her from exposing every dirty, filthy trick he has used to intimidate her. I want to ask the state prosecutors what the f** * they have done, while one man has completely subverted the system. It’s reached a stage where she no longer cares and wonders why she bothered to start this in the first place. She is no match to his power and privilege. And it appears no one wants to hear her story. And that’s the place he wants her to be in. Tired and exhausted.”

Over the past few days on Twitter, young women have been sharing the most gut-wrenching stories about how they are harassed and stalked when they venture into today’s dating game, by young men known to them and to their worlds. Using social media and technology, they are bombarded with sexual imagery and asked to share their own. When confronted, these young men pretend to apologise and then make themselves into the victims, of life or circumstance or of the phases of the moon or whatever rubbish. These sham apologies are more signs of harassment and abuse. These are men who pretend to be aware and full of annoying trendy words like “woke” and supporters of the #MeToo movement, while behaving absolutely no differently from other predatory men.

It is no secret that violation of privacy and penetration of dignity are easy ways to target women. And society expects women to keep quiet. We get very angry about gangrapes. Well, so we should. But everyday indignities and all the way up to strong physical and emotional assault must apparently be tolerated.

And then there’s us, the media. We are terrified within ourselves and our newsrooms. Everyone knows stories of powerful editors who transgress all lines; what have we done about it? Everyone single one of us who looks into a mirror is guilty, of complicity, of cover-ups, of silence. And what we make some fuss about in other professions, why are we so silent when it comes to our own?


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

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