The social media is flooding with #metoo (me too) hashtags. Sexual assault survivors are using this hashtag to call out on the cancer-like spread of sexual crime in our society. This is a consequence of the disclosure of Hollywood’s larger than life (nay, God?) figure Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predatoriness . More and more actresses have publicly stated their harassment at the hands of Weinstien. There was call for all women to tweet if they have faced sexual harassment, with the hashtag me too. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

Social media is a tiny cross section of the people that face these crimes every day. This voicing of harassment is breaking the internet. Can you imagine how deep the rot is in reality? But this did not happen overnight.

Between victims of sexual assault, and the vile assaulter, lies a dense fog of the silent witnesses of assault that block out these accounts of harassment from daylight almost completely. The crucial channel of communication of one’s terrifying experience gets cut off by those who laugh it off or tell the person to take it in their stride or just pretend they saw/heard nothing. There are multiple cases where men and women think it is more important to keep up the bro-code rather than do the right thing. This bro-code is possibly more shattering than the assault itself. Or an assault within the family circle is hushed up for sake of honour of the family. Sometimes assaults are silenced because witnesses find it  easier to carry on as if nothing happened, specially if it involves powerful god-men/women or politicians. It is these ‘reasons’ that make for the prevalent culture of rape and everyday sexism. It is this deafening silence that needs to be broken if we are serious about challenging patriarchy.

Silence acts like the catalyst. The silence of the survivor is not because they wish it away. Silence is imposed on them through fear and the normalization of such instances. Their silence is because they did not have enough support around them to be heard.

The silence of the witnesses actually perpetuates patriarchy. Their complicit-ness is in their silence. Their silence has echoes of abuses they have been passively responsible for by not speaking up. It is this silence that needs shattering.

If we are done with putting the burden of doing something about the rot onto the ‘victims’, we may move on to this lot of passive enablers of abuse. Not being an abuser, it is easy to support this vocal group of survivors who speak up in #metoo. But ask yourself, are you a passive enabler or have you ever been one? Own up to it. Your silence has as much a role to play in the turning of the wheel sexual abuse for over centuries. If the juggernaut has to stop in its tracks, the spade has to be called a spade. For a starter maybe one can begin with an ikeptshut hashtag. #ikeptshut. Let’s see how well that trends. It probably won’t. It is easier to ask the assaulter to stop dead on its tracks (on the internet in a generalized hashtag maybe). An empty threat. Responsibility for the prevalent sexist culture must lie even with those who choose to look away.

But hey, I did not do anything to own up.

In this terribly powerful and patriarchal world, keeping silent also is a privilege and you become a passive enabler of crime. Owning up to this privilege is the least one can do. By owning up we may begin unpacking the casual sexism around us, rape culture in religious gatherings, the idea of honour or izzat that is so very important to Indian families especially and question bro-codes of sexist conduct. Breaking the silence of mute spectators is imperative to break the chain of patriarchy that enables Harvey Weinsteins and Ram Rahims to flourish.

Debjanee Ganguly is a research scholar in JNU

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  1. Sally Dugman says:

    When I was nineteen years old, I walked to a grocery store from my parents’ home outside of a high fence concerning which inside was a mental institution. Then there was a whistle from inside. I turn and saw a mental patient, out for an airing and exercise no doubt, drop his pants and show me his genitals. ,,, I said nothing to him, showed no reaction on my face, turned away and kept on walking to the store. Yet I was shook up emotionally that someone, mentally disturbed or not, would act in such a way toward another person.

    Around the same time, I was almost raped and as was raped — at least one other young woman — in Morningside Park, NYC, USA. I describe these events here:

    No-Go Zones – Countercurrents
    in Life/Philosophy — by Sally Dugman — September 4, 2017 … since none of the rapists going after the student in no-go zone Morningside Park was a Muslim.

    Sometimes, believe it or not, men are raped. They are tied and forced to have a physiological sexual response by one or more females, which is, obviously, as bad as that which takes place to females, but not occurring as ab event as frequently.

    The first time that I learned of rape was when I was thirteen and was reading a medical text about treating mentally ill people that I found on one of the many bookshelves that my parents had. It involved the way that a family friend lured a five year old girl into having sex with him.

    The steps to lure her were cunning. The hiding of the continual rape was equally cunning. … FIVE YEARS OLD, AND WHICH CHANGED HER PHYSICALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY FOR LIFE!

    Obviously, the rapists need mental health support, such as the man who exposed himself to me was receiving. Obviously, too, do all of the victims!

    We also all need AVP sessions to heal as a society from such horrific events:

    Alternatives to Violence (AVP) – Quakers in the World
    AVP was initiated by US Quakers in 1975, in response to requests for help from inmates in Greenhaven Prison, New York. It is now an international movement …

    Alternatives to Violence Project – Wikipedia
    The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) is a volunteer-run conflict transformation program. … Although the original workshops were designed and facilitated with Quaker oversight, the project is a non-profit, non-denominational organization.
    ‎History · ‎Organization · ‎Organizations

    What AVP Is and How It Started – AVP-NH
    Though founded in 1975 by inmates with the help of Quakers in New York State, AVP draws its participants and its trainers from all religions, races and walks of …

    My friends at Scarsdale,NY, USA Quaker ( Religious Society of Friends) started this initiative. I can guarantee that it works even in cases involving butchery and murder as occurred in Rwanda.

    So contact Quakers at the AVP if you wish to learn the way to set up such a project in your region. Doing so is cost free for recipients.

  2. Debjanee says:

    In India, we are yet to come out of the victim blaming mindset. in fact rate of crime within households is so high and yet we project ourselves as being very family oriented (sanskaric- cultured) to the point of it becoming claustrophobic. this country is waiting a revln within the space of the family and household.

    • Sally Dugman says:

      My attitude is that if you need change, then you work to get it in place even if it is simple as a task to undertake and even if it doesn’t require lots of time. … In my view, AVP can help work to fix the problems that you describe. … Use the link for Emily Waters below if you wish. She CAN help in various ways.

  3. Sally Dugman says:

    I talked with an AVP person. AVP people are willing to set up in India. Contact if interested.

  4. Debjanee says:

    Will go through the AVP link you’ve sent. Thanks.