Singer Via Vallen has received support as well as disapproval after exposing a private message she had received with sexual connotations. (kompas.com/Andi Muttya Keteng)
Maulidia Octavia, popularly known as Via Vallen, is a young, pretty girl whose dream of becoming a famous dangdut singer came true. Her single “Sayang” (Honey) got over 150 million views on YouTube, making it the second-most viewed local music video in 2017. No matter how amazing her story may sound, in the social media era, where celebrities are born every second, Via Vallen can be any one of us.
Like many other women in Indonesia, she also cannot escape sexual harassment.
Recently, Via said she had received a private message from an unnamed foreign soccer player making lewd comments via Instagram.
The message said, “I want u [sing] for me in my bedroom, wearing sexy clothes …”
In this case, Via Vallen could be one of us.
Data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2017 showed that one out of three women in Indonesia had experienced sexual violence in various forms, including physical and verbal, both offline and online.
Instead of keeping quiet, Via showed the private message on social media.
Her actions got a mixed response. Many have applauded the singer’s brave attitude for speaking up but others criticized her for overreacting, and accused her of trying to get publicity. Some critics even commented that Via got what she deserved after exposing herself in sexy dresses.
Discussions on media conclude that the latter response is evidence that Indonesia does not take sexual harassment seriously, and still considers victims speaking up a foreign idea. Others believe that Via's case is only the tip of the iceberg of sexual harassment cases as many victims refuse to make reports.
Those points are probably true, but I, myself, take this case more personally.
As a woman, a mother and a daughter, I am personally hurt at how Via as a victim was blamed.
Has it occurred to these so-called moral judges that Via’s case may happen to them, their mother, their sister, their colleague, their friend, their daughter?
With the odds of one out of three as mentioned in the statistics, the next victim can be one of them, or even you. You and your loved one could be next in line to suffer from sexual harassment.
Instead of giving each other support, we question them. Where is our consciousness and empathy?
Victim blaming is unjustified on so many levels. First, it is hurtful and it discourages the victims. A 2016 survey showed 93 percent of sexual abuse victims did not report their cases. Such attitudes will just make the number worse.
Second, it helps perpetrators to escape from guilt and it will encourage them to do it again. In response to the case, the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has encouraged all victims to speak up against sexual harassers as it may deter them from repeating the crime.
Third, victim blaming is also undermining this country’s women’s movement, which strives for gender equality so women can have the same opportunities in various sectors, so we can vote and speak up and be heard.
Decades of struggle will perish as we refuse to listen to the voice of our fellow women just because they don’t say it properly or their wardrobe is not suitable to our tastes.
Before Via, YouTuber Gita Savitri also suffered from similar harassment via her Instagram account. She also screencapped the message and posted it on her Instastory. People compared the reactions of these women. Many are supportive of Via, as she was considered more composed and mature in dealing with the case, while Gita was too emotional. She barked at an innocent guy whose account was actually hijacked to send the “sexts”. There were comments of how a degree and hijab do not necessarily indicate a “good personality”. Gita has a master’s degree and wears a hijab, unlike Via.
But who are we to judge? Both Via and Gita are still the victims here. They were both hurt, humiliated, offended and traumatized, and different women may have different reactions.
One thing we can learn from the #MeToo movement, an international movement against sexual harassment and assault, is that women must unite to win the battle against sexual offenders.
The movement began with one woman speaking up against sexual abuse, followed and supported by others.
Women need to support each other so sexual predators like former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein can be stopped.
Women need to stop doubting the victims but instead listen to them so alleged rapists like comedian Bill Cosby can be convicted for their crimes.
Women need to work hand-in-hand standing up for each other to make this world safer for women.
For those who still disapprove of this call to action, I don’t really know which planet you're from or if you missed out on how relentlessly women have struggled for gender equality, but definitely, you are not one of us.
So, ladies, are you in or out?
Ika Krismantari is a mother of two and a writer.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.