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‘Victim’ or ‘survivor’- rebuilding narrative of abuse

Calling the individual a ‘sexual abuse survivor’ gives more hope to the wronged



Sexual assault is an act of extreme cruelty and injustice that causes insurmountable levels of trauma on the inflicted individual. When a forcible act of abusing someone sexually takes place, the experience is one that even the sufferer fails to understand or give words to. The trauma leaves the one abused feeling used, deceived and damaged. The person then begins to see the world with a tinted lens, which casts a shadow of darkness over everything.

A reported 94 per cent of such women experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) within two weeks after the assault. Among them, 30 per cent continue to experience PTSD symptoms nine months after the incident. This disorder is characterised by intrusive, distressing flashbacks from the event, emotional numbness, social avoidance, and persistent negative beliefs about one’s self or others. It is most often accompanied by depression, or anxiety, that further cause distress to their mental, emotional, and physical state.

Sexual assault and rape is attached with a stigma all over the world. A stigma is defined as ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person’ and one regarding rape and sexual assault makes the situation worse for someone who is already suffering. Removing this stigma is a step towards improvement, creating a healthier environment for the sufferer to heal in, and easing his or her hardships.

The reaction of the society in this regard is important, but the media plays a vital role in building the narrative for issues and events that happen in the country. It has the power to shape how a rape incident is perceived, through the words used in its stories and has the responsibility to use this power correctly.

When a rape case is reported, the news usually add a headline with the words ‘Rape Victim’ along with images depicting helplessness, vulnerability and hopelessness. Another image often used is that of masculine hands covering the female’s mouth to hush her up, depicting silence and weakness.

A point to ponder is, what message these images give across? The issue becomes framed in a way that the victims feel further stigmatised from the society, when all they need is healing. It is common for their images to go viral on social media, which informs the public and also gains sympathy and support for them. However, the victims of abuse become the core focus of the issue, rather than the perpetrator or abuser who should have been held under the spotlight for the world to see. Calling someone a victim not only reinforces his or her victimhood but also draws complete attention towards the sufferer, garnering increased interest about the personal details of the victim. The victim becomes the subject of the entire case.

Dating back to the 1970, books like “I Never Told Anyone” and “The Courage to Heal” collecting personal narratives of women who had experienced incest and child sexual abuse, were the first to pointedly use the word ‘survivor’, replacing ‘victim’ in an attempt to emphasise women’s resourcefulness rather than their helplessness and the decisions they had made that allowed them to stay safe and sane.

Today, with the rise of the #MeToo movement, a discussion has stirred again, in which women are uniting, to be called ‘survivors’, not ‘victims’ of abuse.

When the media calls a person who is raped a ‘victim’, it correctly defines him or her “as a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action” as defined by Oxford. But for the person who was subjected to such a heinous crime, the word ‘victim’ has more connotations. The word has a psychological impact on the person who was abused and traumatised.

While it is important to acknowledge the suffering and pain of the ‘victim’ and using the term does that, it also further reinforces the victim as ‘hopeless’ in society’s eyes and further reinforces all the stigmas attached to rape, making them feel more isolated.

The term ‘victim’ limits the scope for improvement or healing, because using this term is like taking a pen and writing the end of their story, with nothing left to hope for.

For these reasons, calling the individual a ‘rape survivor’ or a ‘sexual abuse survivor’ gives more hope to the wronged. The ‘victim’ is now a ‘survivor’- erasing the societies’ stigma towards the future, offering hope and encouragement.

In an article ‘Survivor vs Victim: The Power of Language’ published last year, Jessica Tappana, a therapist and co-founder of counselling website in Columbia writes, “When I use the term survivor, I feel that it leaves the door more open for possibility. Even if my client isn’t thriving right this moment, I still encourage them to claim the title of ‘survivor’ as we begin to walk down the path of healing.”

In Pakistan, the particular stigma attached to rape is regarding the shame it brings to the individual and her family. It is something to hide from the world, to live with and carry this shame for the rest of life. Calling the victim a survivor would turn the ‘shameful’ incident into an event that this person ‘survived’ implying that they still have prospects for a better future.

Sexually abused women are not irrevocably damaged in soul and body, and if they do not acknowledge this, they are in denial of their strength. We can equip them with that courage by not letting their abuse define them.

We can start by calling them ‘survivors’, undefeated and brave; so that instead of bowing down their heads in shame, they can keep their chin up, look towards a positive future, and proudly say, “I am a survivor.”

With a Masters degree in Journalism from IBA, Noor Usman Rafi seeks to understand the ethical dilemmas and complexities of working in the field. She is an advocate of social justice and also reviews beauty & health products at her Instagram blog @beautebynour.


Some progress in Pakistan this week

From many perspectives, this was an eventful week for Pakistan



As the monsoon rains lashed across the country, amid pounding inflation and protesting traders, Pakistan witnessed important developments this week. Though most incidents will have long term impacts which are expected to unfold with time, their significance at present can also be not denied.

ICJ orders consular access to Yadav, rejects Indian plea: (more…)

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The Mystery Colour Pink Beholds

Colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values



Pink has long been associated with girls, so where does this association come from?

Everything for a girl is pink, or will have at least a hint of pink. Starting from her nursery, toys, dresses to lunch box, school bag, pink is bombarded on girls.

There are a number of ways through which colours are imposed upon children. It begins when the baby is not even born. The phenomenal advancement in technology and prenatal testing, now makes it possible for parents to find out the sex of their still-not-born babies. This allows parents to decorate the nurseries in colours that they think are best suited with their newborn’s gender. It is the first step towards colour imposition.

It won’t be wrong to say that a baby girl is born in a pink world. It is this colour that she would find all around her after she opens her eyes for the first time. The room shading, dresses that she wears, toys she plays with and even birthday cakes she gets, are all pink. It’s not the parents only, this colour specification has become so real that new born gifts also comply with it. Visit a store for newborn accessories and the first question that is asked is about the gender of the baby. Even story books and children’s cartoons do their best to teach individuals gender specific behaviour . Barbie, Hello Kitty, My Little Pony n Friend are all girls’ favourite cartoons, painted in pink. Even the adventurous Dora wears a pink tee. Watching them, young girls associate themselves with the colour.

Marketing strategies that brands use further establish the colour identification for gender. It’s a psychological factor that brands exploit to leap their sales. They strictly follow with ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ rule and make sure their customers comply.

Studies show that after the age of two, children begin to understand gender specific roles and girls choose pink over other colours to identify theirs. Professor of Gender and Culture at the UK’s Leeds University, Ruth Holliday, states that “Even very young girls understand that pink things are for them. In experiments where guns were painted pink and My Little Ponies were painted black and made to look spiky, three-year-old children assumed the gun was a girls’ toy and the pony a boys’ one. The colour rather than the function determined gender appeal.”

Colour preference isn’t biological, it’s more of a human made marvel. Girls and boys are both born with the similar arrangement of biological composition, the only difference being X & Y chromosomes. It’s not that girls have a pink chromosome or a pink strand of DNA that compels them to like pink more. And if we look at historical perspective, the findings are interesting.

History suggests that before the 1900s, babies were usually dressed in white regardless of gender. There were no differentiation amongst them on the basis of their colour preferences. If there was any, it was quite opposite from what it is today. An article in the 1918 issue of Ladies Home Journal reads that “the generally accepted rule is pink for boys and blue for girls; the reason is that pink being a decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girls”. Then what brought the switch over?

Anya Helbert, a researcher at University of Newcastle, proposed that women prefer hues of red more because traditionally they have been more exposed to the colour by gathering fruits. Other studies regarding this topic cite some events that gave rise to the present colour enforcement. One such event is World War II, where due to the blue coloured uniform worn by soldiers, blue colour became associated with masculinity.

Similarly, in the 1940s, Think Movement tried to convince girls to embrace their feminism. This movement urged women to embrace their womanhood, with the name tag with pink, the colour naturally corresponding to women.

This colour coding creates a stereotype that stays entrenched in the minds of children even after they grow. They identify themselves with specific colour that not only limits their freedom but also bounds them to act in the ways society tells them to. This kills their imagination and creativity and limits their choices. One of the disastrous implications of this colour stereotyping is that it affects self-esteem. The very basic attributes of pink colour are that it’s pretty, polite, catchy and sensitive. When a girl is told throughout her lifetime that she has to be the manifestation of this colour to look more ‘girl like’, she tries to incorporate these attributes into her personality. The same is for boys, the tormenting and bullying that accompanies wearing pink is staggering to the point that boys, mostly avoid the colour even if they like it.

Angela Weyers, Style and Colour consultant comments that, pink is assumed as a sign of “weakness and a lack of intellectual rigour” and advises women to actually not wear it to work in the corporate world, as they are less likely to be taken seriously. This, along with other stigmas surrounding the color, make it a cliché.

Now when we have understood that colour stereotype is creation of our own societal values, we have to understand this as a societal issue. There is no such thing as real-man or real-woman. And pink has literally nothing to do with a woman. Both men and women are humans with no supernatural specifications and they should be treated that way. Parents, educational institutes and media can play their role in this regard. Rather than fabricating pink and blue norms they need to be responsible in raising individuals. Let pink and blue be treated as colours only.

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Dismays and Delights: How Pakistan fared this week?

Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome.



This week in Pakistan was disappointing, to say the least. From the fiasco in the World cup match to the murder of a blogger in Islamabad, the list of dismays is long. India’s positive response to hold talks with Pakistan seemed the only silver lining in the dark clouds of dooms, yet it was quickly rebuffed by India as “fake news”.

It pains as well as amuses me that fans of cricket in Pakistan still remain die hard to their team. Its a different thing to be a cricket buff and another to be supportive of your team, for its been a while that Pakistan’s cricket team pulled a feat worth praise.

Pakistani Cricket Team captain Sarfaraz Ahmed (L), Indian Cricket Team captain Virat Kohli

One did not even need to switch on the TV or check updates on phone on the mess which Pakistan was in its World Cup match against India. The memes did the job pretty well, an area in which Pakistanis’ talent and sense of humour is worth appreciating.

Starting from the mind boggling decision of choosing to field after winning the toss, to poor bowling and miserable fielding (as usual), I can only say that the fans of Pakistani cricket team were very courageous to stick with their support through out the match. In comparison, was the highly professional and progressive Indian team, which showed true characteristics of first class cricket. It was no surprise that Pakistani cricket icon Wasim Akram showed his confidence in India as a player even before the match started.

A Pak-India interaction on a different level received an uplift, when the re-elected Prime Minister Modi of India, finally responded in positive to a series of letters written by his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Since early this year, both countries have experienced most severe ties, even reaching the brink of war. The Pulwama attack in Indian held Kashmir triggered a spate of exchanges of words as well as arms. After an informal meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Pakistan’s allowance for India to use its airspace for Prime Minister Modi for the SCO meeting of heads of states, Modi’s preference to still fly using another, alternate route while refusing to rub shoulders with Khan at the conference, the ice seemed to thaw.

However, Pakistani media’s interpretation of Modi’s written response to Khan that India had agreed to resume dialogue, was refuted by Indian foreign ministry.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar

“The letters only reiterated India’s old position that it wants normal and cooperative relations with all countries in South Asia (including Pakistan) and that it was important to create an environment free of terror and violence for it. There was no mention of any sort of dialogue with Pakistan,” responded the ministry’s spokesperson to The Times of India.

A similar exchange of letters between Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi and his newly appointed Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, was also explained as a mere reply. The hope of resuming of dialogues between the two countries was quashed.

So was the life of Muhammad Bilal Khan, a famous 22-year-old Pakistani blogger, who was stabbed to death in Islamabad, sparking outrage among Pakistanis.

Blogger Muhammad Bilal Khan was murdered in Islamabad

Khan was known for his critical comments on religious issues. He also spoke about the disappearance of activists and journalists. Khan’s shocking death is pertinent in the context that he had a following of thousands on Twitter, YouTube as well as Facebook. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has assured of investigation by the government.

Perhaps, a not so highlighted and the lone positive news one could find was the approval of the initial draft of the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 by a Parliamentary body. The bill has recommendations for rigorous imprisonment until death for the sexual assault and murder of children.

Photo Credit: AFP

The recommendations are now to be discussed by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Once passed by parliament, the bill will pave way for the setting up of Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Agency (ZARRA), where missing child cases will be reported to generate an automatic alert. It will also introduce a response and recovery mechanism for missing children.

A draft of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill has also been approved with recommendations concerning the registration of people with disabilities, reforms to address their grievances and procedures to address their complaints.

While unexplained deaths and disappearances of activists remains a worrying issue, some decision making for missing and abused children as well as disabled persons is a progress in the human rights of country.

Other sectors are eagerly looked upon for some positive news. The nation’s favourite sports of cricket comes back at the turn of the week with anticipation.

The week, which started miserably with Pakistan’s loss against India in the World Cup match, has ended with hopes and fears for the next contest between Pakistan and South Africa. Such is the course of time, that humans, after mourning a loss, prepare for the next outcome. A comeback by Pakistan in the World Cup could raise hopes for optimism in the week that is to begin.

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