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Who to blame for a rise in sexual violence in Ethiopia?

Psychologically speaking, if circumstances pressure us to take part in a dangerous job, we are more likely than not to underestimate the likelihood of an accident caused by the job. Certainly, one does not wish to be involved in something that could potentially result in any harm to one’s self. Nonetheless, certain situations might force us to work in a life-threatening environment. In other words, in some situations, our beliefs might not be consistent with our behavior. This creates an unpleasant feeling we as humans often attempt to vanish from. One mode of getting away from feeling the blues is re-evaluating our “beliefs” and forming new cognitive processes about our actions. As a result, thoughts like “It is not that bad” or “It is not dangerous” will be introduced about the unsafe work we are taking part in. 

This is called Cognitive Dissonance, which refers to the mental conflict that occurs when a person’s behavior and belief do not align. It also occurs when a person has contradictory beliefs or ideas. This psychological phenomenon causes feelings of uneasiness and tension. Unfortunately, we humans do not sit well with unpleasant feelings. As a result, we attempt to disappear from this discomfort by all possible means. This pursuit to appease our discomfort can run the gamut from introducing new beliefs/behaviors to ignoring the source of the problem. 

I believe we can easily recognize that our society does not escape from this particular psychological reaction. Specifically, when it comes to sexual violence, our cognitive dissonance is as strong as a bull. You see, sexual violence is not something we talk about openly. Though our society is well-known for its social gatherings with long and charismatic chats that encompass a wide range of subjects, topics like sex and sexual violence are very much frowned upon. We don’t have conversations about what exactly sexual violence is, the magnitude of the problem, or how to deal with it. This creates the cognition that sexual violence does not exist in our society. Yet, we still hear horrifying sexual violence cases that couldn’t stay buried. We hear of sexual crimes committed by family members, little girls and boys running away and women raped and getting pregnant.

This creates a cognitive dissonance because our belief does not match our reality. So, for us to avoid this discomfort that comes from the discrepancy between what we think we know and the real world, we generate quixotic justifications that serve as antidotes for the unpleasant feelings that arise from the disparity. By introducing thoughts that blame the devil, the victim, or the government, we distance ourselves from the issue and register the stories as  ‘horrible unreal stories’ or as something that happens once in a blue moon.  

Even though this sort of thinking will help us make the problem easier to process, it precludes us from comprehending and addressing the issue thoroughly. Instead, we blindly become hunters for these “responsible bodies” to point our fingers at and distract ourselves from the real problem, us!

Among the “responsible bodies” I mentioned above, the most well-known who receives the highest attention from our finger is the devil. Indeed, the idea of God, Satan, and religion has been the foundation for our values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. For thousands of years, religious practices have been the one we turn to for explanation, guidance, social cohesion and so much more. However, it has also been the easy way out when we don’t want to deal with difficult situations. 

Whenever we hear horrible things such as sexual violence, we tend to take the matter as the fault of the devil. It seems like our cognitive dissonance has made us forget that we, humans, have our own will, and can make our own decisions. Unfortunately, this faulty thinking plays down the culpability of the criminal by becoming an excuse not to punish the criminal act in the way that it deserves. 

Our propensity to find faults in other things for the sexual violence happening around us to comfort ourselves does not stop at the devil. Society also blames victims for what happened. This can be evidenced by our usual questions to sexual survivors such as “Why did you go there at that time? ”, “What were you wearing?”. These questions not only insinuate that the victim is responsible to some extent but also further traumatize them by attributing liability for their sexual assault.  

Plenty of people accuse the government of Ethiopia for the sexual violence happening around us. Unquestionably, the government has a great responsibility in creating awareness about Sexual Violence, investigating cases related to the crime, and delivering justice and services to victims. However, this doesn’t mean that we as individuals are free from responsibility regarding the awful things happening around us. As long as we refrain from reporting cases, circumvent pressing charges, and fend off helping police officers to catch the perpetrators, there is certainly going to be a limit to what the government can do.  

It also seems like we have dismissed from mind the fact that the police, the attorney, the judge, and medical professionals all working under the government to address sexual violence are part of our society. They’re not separate or isolated entities. They hold society’s values and reflect them in their work.  Though these individuals have responsibilities assigned to them because of their job title, they might still have thoughts like “it’s the devil”, or “it is her fault” because of their cognitive dissonance.

As you can see, to make things easier to process, we’re in a constant attempt to find something/someone to point our finger at for the sexual violence that is happening around us. By our non-stop effort to blame others and separate ourselves from the problem, we not only turn a blind eye but also reinforce the “I couldn’t have done anything” mentality, which further complicates and worsen the situation. 

This ironically earns us the highest echelon on the responsible body hierarchy because we have completely turned a blind eye to the fact that we all share the responsibility of stoping the sexual violence in our country. 

By Kalkidan Asmamaw

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