Trigger warning: Sexual abuse, rape
Our conversations around sexual abuse have slowly started to broaden up. With the feminist activists raising protests and discussions upon whether to criminalise marital rape, the discourse on various kinds of intimate and institutionalised sexual violence has been strengthening. But what disturbs me is the silence on father-daughter sexual abuse. Yes – you read it right, fathers sexually assault their daughters too. This happens a lot and is far more common than we can imagine.
Very recently, a woman in Chennai’s Otteri reportedly killed her husband to save her 20 year old daughter from being sexually assaulted by him. While in this case the mother did stand up for the daughter, this doesn’t usually happen because mothers are often dependent on their husbands and under a lot of family pressure. They are not able to take a stand for their daughters in such families, leaving the daughters extremely vulnerable.
When we talk about abusive men, we often ignore conversations around abusive fathers out of our own reverence for parental love and its cultural pedestalisation. But we must also address the reality of many survivors of paternal abuse. If one reads the news, it is not uncommon to hear cases of sexual abuse by fathers. We frequently come across such reportage, yet often choose to stay silent.
Our silence about such incidents is deeply rooted in myths of purity/virginity as well. We’ve still not understood that it isn’t the purity or modesty of a woman that is invaded when she is sexually assaulted or raped, it is her human right and consent that is violated. The earliest rape laws define rape as a crime against the property of a father or a husband and sadly, this mindset still prevails, which is quite evident through our silence on this issue.
Acknowledging sexual abuse within families may also tarnish the sanctity of the institution of family in our collective mindset and hence, we do not discuss it so as to maintain the continuance of families, no matter how abusive.
Rape/sexual assault is a crime regardless of the relationship the attacker has with the survivor. It doesn’t matter if it happened just once, how long it lasted, or how much a father “loves” his daughter – if he abused her, he abused her. Period.
We often believe that men who sexually exploit their own daughters do it solely out of lust. While sexual desires can play a role in some cases of sexual violence, the major factor is dominance, toxic masculinity and power assertion. Abuse is of many kinds – emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual. Almost all the women I’ve been close to had emotionally or/and physically abusive fathers.
The stronger the culture of validating toxic masculinity within the family system is, the harsher the abuse and the easier for the man to evade consequences. The whole act has got a lot to do with power and control over female bodies and agency.
There have been cases where fathers sexually assault their daughters upon finding out that they are queer to prove that heterosexual intercourse is better, or upon marrying someone from a different caste that the father does not approve of. All this is enough to prove that rape is not about lust alone, but also about power and aggression.
In the post #metoo world where our discourse on sexual abuse is becoming more experiential and nuanced, it is time we start talking about abusive fathers, especially sexually abusive fathers since this is an issue that affects the mental and physical integrity of many young girls and women.
Their abusers are enabled by our collective reverence for family as an institution and the divinity associated with parental love and authority. We must address experiences that are otherwise, and approach the problem with a more survivor centric lens.
Featured Image Source: Wisconsin Family Law