Victim-blaming and revenge p*rn in Nina is Not OK
Content note: Sexual violence
This week is Book Week Scotland and we’re still in the #16days of activism.
I recently read a book which is such a good read – funny and full of drama – as well as covering some of the issues which we might be thinking about during the 16 days of activism.
‘Nina is Not OK’ is a novel by Shappi Khorsandi. It follows a girl named Nina, who has British and Moroccan heritage, as she struggles with her identity, her family life and a problem with alcohol abuse that develops after a relationship comes to an end. During an evening out with her friend at a nightclub, two men sexually assault her while she is too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity.
The events in Nina’s life are awful, and she’s really in a bad space when the book begins, but it’s amazing to follow her progress from denial and alcohol abuse through to acceptance of her issues, and a sincere effort to deal with them. What I absolutely love (hard to say too much without spoiling the plot) is that the blame for the assault is squarely placed on the perpetrators, and Nina is surrounded by friends and family who support her.
Sadly, some of her former friends blaming her for being assaulted: “You’re a f***ing liar! You’re a LYING F***ING SLAG!”. They want to side with the perpetrator, so they don’t have to stop seeing him. This victim-blaming is a very common reaction. Some reasons for it are explored in this book https://ninaburrowes.com/books/the-courage-to-be-me/chapter-2/
However, victim-blaming makes it so hard for victims/survivors of sexual assault to get support, and if a crime goes to court, it makes juries biased in favour of the accused.
It’s always illegal to commit rape and sexual assault. People in all sectors of society are raped – women and men, girls and boys, people who wear modest clothing, people who wear revealing clothing, people who go out in the day, people who go out at night, people who stay at home. It is a crime that disproportionately affects women, so Amina: The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre campaigns and supports women who have been affected by this crime.
We use this video in training to explain that it is never acceptable to rape someone, which might be useful if you’re unfamiliar with recent changes to the law, to cover sexual assault of someone who is intoxicated.
There’s a passage in the book where it’s clear that victim-blaming attitudes are putting Nina off reporting the crime. “Can I really expect a guy to take the blame? I mean, yeah, I can, because he was to blame, but the police will just think I’m a slag. They’ll talk to the bouncer in the club who was disgusted by me, they’ll talk to the cab driver, and they will all say: ‘Oh my God, that slag is crying “rape”.’ That’s what everyone will say, that I’m “crying rape.”
Unfortunately for Nina, the assault was photographed and videoed. The images and video were shared online. This causes Nina a lot of heartache and takes a while to get over, although she does have support around her.
“Beth asks to see the video. I let her, and I let her see the other photos too. She starts to cry, proper hand-to-mouth ‘oh my God’ sobbing. I need people to stop freaking out because there is nothing I can do about what happened. Beth cuddles me and tells me that she loves me. We don’t normally do stuff like that but she is really upset.”
Photo: Shappi Khorsandi
This year, a new law called the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act has come into place. This means that it is now illegal to “disclose, or threaten to disclose, an intimate photograph or film” without consent.
This is an important legal development. It means that if you, for example, seek a divorce after an abusive relationship, and your ex messages you to say he will distribute a photograph of you, even just this threat is an offence.
Women have been campaigning for a long time for this kind of change, and it does feel as though laws are catching up. There have already been convictions in Scotland under this law.
The cab driver mentioned above is a brilliant example of a bystander who acts in a supportive way when Nina is not able to look after herself properly. He’s identified as Muslim in the book. “The cab driver was Muslim. He had one of those white skullcaps on.” Nina feels concerned and vulnerable being in a cab with him, but he looks out for her.
“’She was asleep, you know? I couldn’t wake her.’ The cabbie must have gone to the door and fetched Mum. His Pakistani accent was soft and concerned. ‘She is young. I thought I’d better get her parents, you know what I’m saying.’ […] He waved away further offers of paying the fare, got back in his car and drove away.”
This is a man who doesn’t voice judgemental thoughts, who only provides support.
Amina: MWRC works with Muslim men in Scotland in The Best of Men workshops, so men can learn how to give support to women and girls who have faced abuse, and how to be good bystanders and stop further abuse of women. If you’re interested in a workshop for your community, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If this blog post has raised something you’d like to talk about, you can ring Amina MWRC’s helpline from Monday to Friday 10am-4pm on 0808 801 0301. https://www.mwrc.org.uk/what-we-do/helpline/
You can also contact Rape Crisis.