The morning started with the news that a girl was injured as she jumped out of a bus, attempting to escape rape inside the moving vehicle. There may be some shrugs, "So what's new about that?" Is that how things stand in the country? Has everyone become so complacent about rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence?
A visible rise in physical and sexual violence against women this year in the country shows the adverse attitude of society towards women and their vulnerable state, even during a global crisis.
When the entire world has been fascinated with the ‘stay home, stay safe’ campaign to curb infections of coronavirus, the lethal virus that has crippled the whole world, women were trapped in another shadow pandemic, violence against them.
There are numerous data showing rising domestic violence and sexual abuse of women worldwide. When the media and social media were busy preaching about humanity and helping underprivileged groups and communities, the group that encompasses half of the population remained unseen and neglected, wounded and shattered.
According to UN Women, reports of domestic violence increased by 30 per cent since the lockdown began on 17 March 2020. Helplines in Singapore and Cyprus have registered an increase in calls of more than 30 per cent. Developed countries like Canada, Germany, Spain, UK and the US also saw sharp rise in cases of domestic violence along with demands for emergency shelter.
The United Nations Fund for Population Activities estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic may cause 15 million additional gender-based incidents of violence globally for every additional three months of lockdown.
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) estimates 1546 rapes in the country reported in various media from January to November 2020. Among them, 623 victims were aged below 18 and 328 were below 12. The number was 1351 in 2019
The pandemic restrained people from working, impacted their livelihood, crippled the economy of many of countries, yet it failed to restrain men from abusing women physically or mentally.
In Bangladesh, perpetrators continued beating their previous records of physical and sexual violence against women. The number of rapes increased even though there was lockdown for three months due to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, an amendment of the law against rape has been passed, yet it has proved to be of no use. The number of cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment also increased.
From January to November 2020, 519 cases of domestic violence were reported in different media, according to Ain O Salish Kendra. From January to June, the number was 254, when the government imposed a lockdown in the country from 26 March to 30 May. The number of domestic violence was 192 during the same period of time (January to June) in 2019.
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) estimates 1546 rapes in the country reported in various media from January to November 2020. Among them, 623 victims were aged below 18 and 328 were below 12. The number was 1351 in 2019. It is alarming that most of the rape victims are aged below 18, when schools and colleges were closed nationwide due to the pandemic. It may be easily assumed that a large number of those child victims were abused by known ones and also within their known locations.
Rape is one of the most despised crimes worldwide. Such crimes increase in society when the state fails to ensure security for the group that covers half of its population.
Many recommend stringent laws to prevent this heinous crime. The government had recently made an amendment of the law on 13 October after a nationwide protest against rape following the rape of a 19-year-old housewife, while her husband had been held captive in Sylhet MC College. The amendment stipulates that the maximum punishment for rape will be death.
Victim blaming, counterbalancing and ignorance give advantage to culprits in Bangladesh. Women were in no better condition here before pandemic
According to a Prothom Alo survey from 14 October to 13 November, 183 victims were raped in 171 incidents which is 58 per cent more than the previous month. Only 18 of the 183 victims were raped by unknown perpetrators. It is quite alarming for 165 victims to be raped by known persons in one month.
Further shocking information is that 118 of the 183 victims were children and adolescents, aged below 18 years. Some of the incidents, however, occurred before and reported later.
It does not matter how stern the law is, if the existing law is not implemented properly. Implementing the law becomes more difficult when the responsible minister himself expresses doubts about the incidents. Our law minister Anisul Huq recently said, “I am shocked by the incidents of rape of very young children coming in the media. I'm not saying those are false. But rape cases are also filed over land disputes. They need to be verified. I have also requested the home minister to thoroughly investigate the incidents of rape.”
Like the law minister many in the society argue that violence against women does not occur in Bangladesh only or many of the cases filed are false and ill motivated. Such perception only facilitates the perpetrators.
For example, in the last one decade, the rate of verdict in rape cases in Bangladesh is only 3.45 per cent. The punishment rate is only 0.45 per cent.
Victim blaming, counterbalancing and ignorance give advantage to culprits in Bangladesh. Women were in no better condition here before pandemic. The global crisis, that was supposed to make people’s heart softer, has somehow made a large portion of men frustrated, more hostile and eventually torture women when they fly into rage and sometimes for no reason at all. The women in Bangladesh, or maybe worldwide, are never safe, no matter at home or outside.
* Farjana Liakat works at Prothom Alo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org