“ ‘No’ is not only a word … it’s a sentence by itself … it doesn’t need any explanation or interpretation … no means no” (PINK, 2006, Bollywood Movie)
The thoughts explored in this article are things that I pondered after watching the Bollywood movie ‘PINK’. It’s a heavy topic and some of us may think that this is just another blog to address the issue; the issue of sexual abuse.
Just a mini-synopsis of the movie – a lawyer fights a case for a couple of girls that are sexually harassed. In a court setting, the lawyer highlights the underlying biases, prejudices and basically the truth of the culture that victimises the victim. A culture that believes that women or girls are the cause themselves to attract sexual abuse; a culture that believes that women are their property; and a culture that believes that women or children are a commodity that can be used to display communal or religious hatred.
Although true, the issue stated above is hardly addressed, and it could take generations to instil the understanding or values into the culture or address the gendered issue. Yes, I do believe that sexual abuse or family violence is a gendered issue. Don’t get me wrong, but the stats show a higher percentage of abuse (all kinds) on women. Some may argue that men are also vulnerable and need help, however, it was rightly stated by one of the speaker’s (social worker at a symposium) that when men start running on the streets with their nightgowns on, fearing from their loved ones, then only would she believe that men actually do need help.
At times, aspects of evidence and how it may look, through a cultural lens, is either neglected, not taken into consideration, or is not deemed relevant. I would like to believe that when a woman says ‘NO’, it would be clear enough for the perpetrator to think that there are consequences if he proceeded with what he was doing. I would also like to think that ‘NO’ would be a strong evidence towards proving that the act did occur and was not consensual …… BUT we live in a world where human rights and the rights of perpetrator may override the truth of a horrendous crime (at times). I do not say that the law is flawed, or the perpetrator should be held guilty before proving the crime, but I contest that the legislation is not a manual or Bible where the disciple follows word to word instructions. There are factors like situation, culture, power and control that can influence one’s judgment and decision including the lawyer’s perception and knowledge about these factors. Do we consider these aspects or be mindful of it in the court proceedings???
Further, why even discuss ‘consent’ when it may not hold any position of defence in the court. With the normal ‘in the box’ definition, consent may simply mean YES or a smile and say I am in mood or NO, marks on the body and external/internal bruises. But could consent mean this as well: pouring eyes that may not say I am enjoying it; silence that may not say that I am indulging and lost in the moment; or saying ‘yes’ that may mean that it’s a yes with the fear of you betraying me or leaving me to struggle for a better future or even controlling my RIGHTS?? …. Would these be regarded as consent or not?? Although putting ‘Consent’ in a box would not be fair but expanding the meaning or tailoring it, keeping in mind the external/ cultural factors, would surely shed some light on the cases.
Coming from an ethnic background, I feel that I am protected and I have been given my rights here, but as a woman, I ask for equity wherein a victim is given more support than the perpetrator. Should women know and understand what ‘consent’ means? Or should men understand that ‘NO’ does not mean I am not willing today or not in a ‘mood’? I suppose there are factors in terms of the level of relationship, a level of respect and commitment, and an understanding of the person you stay/live with.
Do you agree? Do you have a different definiton of consent? Voice your opinion and ideas as we would (as usual) love to hear from you.
By Fariya Begum
“You’re not a victim for sharing your story.
You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth.
And you never know who needs your light,
your warmth, and raging courage” — Alex Elle