Old mindsets, victim blaming and why we need to change attitudes
Nothing can be further from the truth. The victim of a sexual attack or a rape cannot be blamed for the action of the perpetrator.
This is why anyone who claims anything remotely similar must be taken to task for being irresponsible, reckless and insensitive, especially in this day and age where the scourge of sexual crimes against women and girls continues to be one of the biggest problems in Samoa.
It is no secret that years and years of victim-blaming, especially from some people in positions of power, has contributed to the situation we’ve found ourselves in today where we have some of the worst statistics in the world.
It is why the story titled “Clergyman’s sex assault comments condemned” highlighting comments from a highly respected leader in the Catholic Church, Father Muliau Stowers, about victims of sexual attacks, are extremely disappointing. Aired on the Catholic channel TV4 last week, Fr. Stowers said it is natural for a man to be aroused to forcibly demonstrate indecent acts on the opposite sex if a woman dresses up inappropriately, or if they are at the wrong place.
"There is sin, and then there is an occasion of sin," Fr. Stowers had apparently said. "For example, there is a man who has just gotten back from a day of work in the plantation, tired and making his way home.
"And he comes across a young girl whose muscles are close to popping out of what she is wearing. Naturally, the opposite sex is supposed to respond. If your body does not feel cold with goosebumps, you must be sick."
Fr. Stowers pointed out that in this instance, should an indecent act occur, firstly, the young girl was at the wrong place at the wrong time and secondly, the young girl was dressing inappropriately.
"The whole blame is put on the man, but why don't they question the other person who was also there?" he asked. "Because it is the evening, she should be home already, secondly, if she had worn something appropriate, like a long loose dress (olomu'u), no feelings would have emerged."
We completely disagree with Father Stowers views. We find them unacceptable, ancient and abhorrent. It is especially sad coming from someone whom young people in the church look up as one of the shining stars of the Catholic faith.
Now don’t get us wrong, of course he is entitled to his opinion. If that’s his view based on his interpretation of theology and philosophy then so be it. But such views cannot be accepted and condoned especially in this day and age where there is such a strong push to eliminate all sorts of violence – including sexual attacks – against women.
How would Father Stowers feel if he was the victim of rape and somebody blamed the shorts he wore? How would he feel if someone close to him and dear to his heart was raped and somebody else said she was in the wrong place? He surely would not be so trigger-happy with his words and this kind of mentality.
And since church leaders are held in such high regard in Samoa, people like Father Stowers have got to be a lot more accountable and responsible about the messages they are delivering. Father Stowers knows this himself. He recently challenged the leader of another church for spreading views he felt were wrong and misleading.
We acknowledge Father Stowers’ apology. That is the sign of a good leader, someone who knows when they have pushed the boundary too far to the point he has erred.
In this day and age of social media, Fr. Stowers’ message is easily accessible by gullible men who would then use it as an excuse to commit rape and sexual crimes. Even worse, the poor victims of these crimes will continue to blame themselves for something that is completely not their fault.
To agree with Father Stowers’ views would be the same as to say that all the girls who dress up to work out at the gym, or to swim at the beach for that matter, deserve to be raped. Such nonsense.
For so long in Samoa, victim blaming has been one of the most widespread misconceptions promoted knowingly – and sometimes unknowingly - by people looking to try and ignore what is obviously criminal behaviour.
Today, we want to say that unless such attitudes and mindsets, which have developed into solid strongholds over the years, are changed, the fight against violence and the abuse of women – including sexual crimes – will only become harder and harder.
Indeed, the problem is that when a lie is perpetrated over and over, we begin to believe it. And the more we believe; the more acceptable it becomes. Victim blaming has existed over the years because of this.
It’s about time this changes. It is why the widespread condemnation of Father Stowers point is important in terms of pushing back against such a mentality. We cannot allow these thought patterns to continue to be entertained and promoted without subjecting them to scrutiny.
Let us also be reminded that regardless of whatever circumstance, sexual violations and instances of rape are criminal activities. Period. To suggest that rape happens simply because a girl entices it is not only downright ridiculous, it is unbelievably absurd. What do you think?
Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless!