28 October 2016

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#ImNotAfraidToSayIt. Tabooed topic

Perhaps there has not been such an extensive, open and frank debate on sexual violence in Ukraine since the terrible tragedy in Vradiivka when a local young woman was brutally raped and almost murdered by a group of men that included police officers. It is important that today's "wave" not die off within social networks, and society – make its first steps toward recovery, not taking violence for granted, and building an efficient system of protection against it.

60% of victims never seek help / Photo by Brooke DiDonato via
60% of victims never seek help / Photo by Brooke DiDonato via

“Flashmob of the week” went viral after the Ukrainian activist, Anastasia Melnichenko, posted on Facebook her own story of experiencing violence – a move triggered by some users engaging an “it’s the women’s fault” rhetoric in online comments. The original post had a hashtag in Ukrainian which is translated into English as #ImNotAfraidToSayIt.

Revelations of people who had been abused and were brave enough to speak up in public within a said flash mob sparked a mixed reaction. Someone thought it a good therapeutic platform, the first step to ensure that the problem is voiced and people start addressing it, while someone labeled these revelations a psychosis, hysteria, and "sessions of mental striptease." Some said it was dangerous, especially for the victim, while some went further to accuse women of "monopolization" and try to ridicule them.

Calling violence by its name and avoiding more trauma

According to psychologists, this flash mob has both the advantages and the downsides. People who join in, being aware of disadvantages, need to properly use the pros. According to a psychologist from the International Women's Rights Center La Strada Anastasia Korenkova, when people get ready to come out, they “need to realize that that if ‘I say this, I can face different opinions." "It is important that the person be mentally prepared.

In turn, family psychologist Svitlana Roiz said she had an ambivalent attitude toward the flash mob. According to her, on the one hand, what has been voiced and manifested can stop possessing us. On the other hand, safe environment is needed for the speaker to talk about these problems.

"It is important that anyone who dared to tell their story felt the power of support, not fear, judgement or sympathy of those who read it," she said.

Unfortunately, #ImNotAfraidToSayIt has opened old wounds of some participants as well as of some passive readers.

That is to say, the flash mob has become a kind of a therapeutic area with the support function for some, while for some people it has become a reason to crawl back inside of a pain capsule. Last but not least it was due to their unwillingness to recognize, faced with this directly, that in a modern society and in a seemingly civilized country in the 21st century, unfortunately, too many people do not call violence by its name.

Attempts to downplay the topic

At the same time, all the ridicule that some people dumped in social networks are merely an attempt to downplay the issue and neutralize the fact of its existence, say the psychologists.

The sceptics’ main question is: what is the point of this flash mob? Like, the victims of harassment scratch and scrub their wounds once again, with this public display of victimization, rather than dealing with their problems with the shrink. "All these messages like "it’s her own fault," "she shouldn’t have dressed that way,” and "she shouldn’t have gone there” are set to defend the abusers, in most cases," the La Strada psychologist says.

That is why, rather often, the Ukrainian society chooses to ignore harassment. Moreover, unfortunately, feeling, grabbing, whistling, telling dirty jokes, and other forms of harassment are not perceived as violence in Ukraine. "The flash mob allowed highlighting a wide range of issues related to violence – ranging between exhibitionism to criminal offenses. And in this spectrum, the problems were found that concerned many of us. People on social networks need to talk about it. This is what changing stereotypes is all about," she said.

Silence does not help in making problems disappear

Actually, the flash mob and the wide range of attitudes have discovered and exposed the fact that the level of violence in Ukrainian society is enormous.

According to the UN Population Fund in Ukraine, one in five women aged 15 to 45 was at least once in her life subjected to physical and sexual violence. As for the "male" stats – it doesn’t exist as such. The problem is very difficult to study because of the" silent "nature of violence, the organization notes. Those who have suffered from violence, do not wish to speak up, the UNFPA Ukraine reports.

That’s mainly because a so-called "victim trap” is triggered when people fear rejection. Fear of rejection is similar to the fear of social death, so this fear forces people to remain silent, the experts say. According to the UNFPA Ukraine’s psychologists, 60% of victims never sought help. Those who tried did not receive assistance in one-third of cases. Victims of violence who sought help from their relatives, friends, or acquaintances have not received support in 33% of the cases. And those who reported their problem to the police, lawyers, and psychologists, were left without assistance in 32% of cases.

In this context, it is not surprising that to the question "Why not go for help?" 14% of respondents answered that they did not believe that someone could actually help, 7% were afraid to complain because they thought that it would only become worse . But the worst thing is that 40% were confident that they will deal with the problem on their own, while 5% believed that what happened to them was a “normal thing.”

Bringing up zero-tolerance to violence

"I was sure that every woman has experienced harassment in one way or the other,” said the representative of the Ukrainian feminist movement Marta Yeremenko. “But I was struck by the number of people I personally know who faced rape. This is different than learning statistical data. Most of them had never talked about it, especially in public. I think that this is one of the main effects of the flash mob – an understanding that violence happens not somewhere with some women and evil abusers. It is happening here and now, with our sisters, friends, mothers, and colleagues," Yeremenko said.

Marta hopes that more people will start with themselves, with adjusting their own behavioral patterns, also paying special attention to the education of children. Marta was astonished by "the number of men who have responded adequately and who are ready to start solving the problem."

One of the memorable comments came from a young scientist, senior researcher at the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Anton Senenko: "... Thank you for resisting the general policy of silence, traditional in our society, which only benefits moral monsters. I hope there’ll soon come a time when the rapist doesn’t know exactly whether or not that ‘cutie’ has a gun in her purse."

In his opinion, the society should forget the argument that the gun will be used against its owner. "It’s always a fist, a stool, or a knife that are used against the victim. But the girl wouldn’t protect herself with a stool or a knife anyway,” he wrote on Facebook.

However, the Parliament is not so much in a hurry to pass the relevant legislation. The bill opening new opportunities for legal ownership of firearms has been back-shelved in the Verkhovna Rada for quite a while. Promises to ratify the Convention of the Council of Europe on the prevention of violence against women and domestic violence and the fight against these phenomena (the Istanbul Convention) were never fulfilled. A year ago, they said the document would be adopted in the second quarter of 2016.

... Three years ago, the story of a young lady from Vradiivka, Iryna Krashkova, led to the "Vradiivka riots," resulting in the girl’s abusers being actually prosecuted and jailed. Today, #ImNotAfraidToSayIt flash mob should result in bringing the topic outside social networks and. And this should result in social rejection of violence. And if it, together with the changes to the legislation, helps tackle barbarism in modern society, then it was all not in vain.

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