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Scarlet letter be damned: it is time to end victim blaming

CW: Domestic violence, sexual violence

With the events of this summer and George Floyd’s death still weighing heavily on our minds as we continue to demand change, an inkling of hope is in the air. As a community, we have been striving to be more inclusive, to understand and support one another. Recent events in Peru, however, are one of many indicators that our fight for equality and justice is far from over. 

On October 29, a court of judges in Ica, Peru acquitted an accused rapist of all charges due to the fact that the woman who fell victim wore red underwear. The judges claimed that her underwear was a sign that she had misrepresented herself as being shy, and that it was indicative of her wanting sex and even asking for it, in some sense. 

The citizens of Peru took to the streets in protest after these events occurred, some with red knickers around their legs in a form of solidarity with the victim who was abandoned by her own government and justice system. 

This injustice in Peru goes beyond just one case, as, like most other countries, they have been a victim of the “shadow pandemic” – a global rise in violence against women and girl during Covid-19. 

Since January, thousands of women and girls have gone missing – 1,423 reported as of September 10th. Not just that but calls to domestic violence and sexual assault hotline have skyrocketed over the past couple of months. 

According to Peru’s Ministry for Women and Vulnerable Populations, they have attended to nearly 1,000 victims of rape which include 703 adolescent girls, since January. And these are just the ones who were brave enough to report their rape and call this specific hotline. 

The issues at hand do not merely concern women, but all sorts of vulnerable groups that this “shadow pandemic” has affected in similar ways. 

All of these statistics amount to one singular goal: we need to find ways of helping those who find themselves as victims. However, this is not easy, as the society we live in continues to disparage the voices of the innocent.

With the increase in sexual assault accusations in recnt years, victim blaming has become even more prevalent. When a victim of assault or rape comes out to say that they have been hurt, they are asked why they didn’t say anything sooner. They are accused of lying and trying to tarnish the reputation of the people that they have accused. 

When there are those who are brave enough to report it when it happens, they are blamed for it. It seems as though no answer will ever be enough. 

A person’s underwear does not define their character, nor does it insinuate that they were “asking for it”. No one asks to be hurt or abused or assaulted, they are put into that situation by those who have no respect or decency for anyone but themselves, who treat others as second-class citizens and view them as objects instead of as human beings. 

How can we ever expect the vulnerable to reach out and ask for help if we, as a society, slap them in the face and push them down every time they try and do so?

We will not let our red underwear become a symbol of shame or let corruption, systems of (in)justice brand us with a scarlet letter. The ones who should be ashamed are those who think they have a right to our bodies, who take what is not theirs and abuse other people.

It is time to put an end to blaming victims, it is time to put an end to justice systems that protect the guilty and charge the innocent and we will continue to take to the street; we will continue to wear our red underwear around our legs in protest and demand change until we make it so. 

Image: Chanut Industries via the Noun Project

By Ece Kucuk

Ece Kucuk served as President of The Student in 2021/22 and is currently a regular contributor to the paper. She was previously Head Editor-in-Chief and Features Editor, she has also been a writer at The Student for over two years. She is going into her Fourth Year of a Master of Arts with Honours in English Language and Literature and plans to do her Postgraduate in Education and Child Development. She has written for every section of the paper as well as written for The Rattlecap and other publications. Some of her favourite works include her reflection on being the child of an immigrant, her piece on introducing ice hockey, as well as her interview with children’s author Mariam James.