The new Vanitha magazine cover featuring the sexual assault case accused Dileep with his family has raked in a lot of angst from several quarters. Fostering an accused in a mainstream women’s magazine has to be the worst form of burlesque narrative.

Why is Vanitha magazine’s cover page disgraceful?

The glossy Dileep Vanitha photo with his family on the front page is a wily PR exercise to paint him as a loving family man. Nearly all sexual predators take refuge under their families, defense being that he has a mother, wife, daughter. As it happens, some dangerous serial killers also had seemingly ordinary family relationships.

Dileep, a Malayalam actor, is accused of planning the kidnap and assault of an actress in Kochi in 2017. Yesterday, the survivor in an Instagram post opened up about her long struggle for justice including, the attempts to humiliate and silence her.

Vanitha magazine’s cover page on Dileep is one such attempt to isolate the survivor while projecting him as a family man, with the story focusing on his supposed travails for justice. There is little wonder then that the victims of assault cases seek to lead a life of anonymity while the perpetrators thrive under a narrative of public acceptance. Moreover, when a magazine that claims to be a women’s mentor indulges in such blatant theatrics, we all know what a farce gender sensitivity truly is in society.

Supporting a survivor is the very least we can do after the abuse and assault endured by them. Survivors’ journey involves enduring cruel attacks and stigma, a blatant bid to discourage other women from reporting such crimes.

Our focus should be on assuring justice to survivors while fighting such outdated shackles of social restrictions. Let us look at how we can do our bit to support survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).

1. Believe in the Survivor

One of the first things we can do is listen to the victim’s ordeal without making judgment calls. Having endured an enormous trauma, the least we can do is accept her version of events. Survivors will feel assured by an empathetic ear that listens without being judgmental. It is equally crucial to respect their boundaries by not asking uncomfortable questions. Accepting the victim’s version with unconditional support has to become the norm.

2. Empower Survivor into the Mainstream

In our society, a victim of sexual assault is coerced craftily to go into hiding. Veiled remarks and pressure tactics are applied to seclude them. This added trauma drags the healing process for the victim. Our prerogative should be to encourage the survivor to face society without any qualms. Survivor has every right to lead a life of normalcy. It is our collective duty to abstain from insensitive and hurtful behavior. Calling out such behavior is vital to promote gender sensitivity.

3. Boycott Perpetrators and Platforms that endorse them

While furtively pushing the survivor into hiding, society delves into overdrive to justify the perpetrators. Holding the abusers accountable for their actions begins by shunning them instead of the victim. Media especially has to direct the narrative by shifting the blame back on the abuser, where it rightfully belongs. Individually, we should boycott perpetrators accused of gender violence and any platforms that endorse them.

4. Practice Gender Sensitivity

Most of the time, we are unaware of our roles in perpetuating gender stereotypes. When we witness any form of teasing, victim-blaming, or vocabulary that hints at gender inequality, we should vocalize our concern. Acknowledging such moments within and educating others is pivotal towards improving gender sensitivity. One of the first steps is to have conversations with the men in your life on the need to respect women’s choices and the importance of consent.

5. Be aware of the Basic Laws and Reporting Procedures

Keep yourself updated about the procedures involved in reporting and filing sexual assault cases. By being aware of the laws in your country, you can be resourceful for any victim seeking necessary information or legal recourse. For instance, be familiar with the local hotline number for sexual assault cases immaterial of your gender.

Support Survivors to Shine

Changing mindsets is the key to helping victims of sexual assault. Stand up in solidarity with the victim instead of making excuses for the perpetrator. Every victimized woman’s journey from victim to survivor is a long, painful process.

Yesterday, the survivor, actress Bhavana Menon opened up about her journey. Gender equality will become a reality when we allow victims to flourish in the mainstream while relegating perpetrators to the sidelines.