Renata Berkyová: "Ferigate" has revealed how Czech society approaches sexual harassment
Dominik Feri, the MP for TOP 09 who is such a celebrity on Czech social media, is facing charges of sexual assault and sexual harassment; after the media publicized the testimonies of multiple women accusing him of such behavior, and after the confirmation that the Charles University Faculty of Law, where Feri studied, had dealt with complaints about him from more than one female student about such behavior, Feri resigned his seat and is not planning to run for the Chamber of Deputies in the autumn. A great deal has already been said about this scandal since the article came out publicizing Feri's accusers' allegations, authored by journalists from the A2larm and Deník N news servers.
Not only was I surprised to hear about Feri's behavior toward women, I have been startled by some people's reactions to the news. In the first place, I do not believe there is any need to thank a politician for resigning over serious accusations of sexual aggression, as one of his colleagues has done.
What is there to thank him for? Is he being thanked for not stomping his feet while shouting "I will never, never leave"?
Certainly Feri is one of just a few politicians, if not the only one in recent years, to take political responsibility for having damaged his moral credit and to leave office for that reason. He may have set the bar higher for others in that regard, but that doesn't make him a hero.
In the second place - and this is exponentially more serious - we have all these people who are casting doubt on the behavior of the women who say Feri harmed them, casting doubt on their testimony, and we have the deflection of attention away from the person accused onto the victims themselves. In addition to showing us how risky women's position in Czech society is, it reveals how in many cases, women here have simply accepted the position assigned to them of being mere sexual objects.
This horrifying internalized attitude is abundantly reflected in different online discussions where women attempt to "teach" these victims about what the point of wearing a miniskirt is, or about the risks of going to a party at night in a man's apartment. These women believe such behavior is simply to be expected from men and claim that all a woman has to do is to deliver a well-aimed slap to get rid of unwanted attention.
No. There are millions of situations where a woman or young girl finds herself in a bind, where she is startled by the unexpected behavior of somebody close to her, where up until that point she had trusted the man, respected him, looked up to him, and then is paralyzed when he assaults her.
We must be aware that in many cases these attackers are people close to these women, or they are influential people abusing their positions of authority, and that makes it especially difficult to stand up to them. When the society in which we live downplays such allegations, makes light of them, or rejects them outright as exaggerations or fabrications, then that makes it all the more difficult for victims to come forward.
The case of Feri is one of an "influencer" with a million followers on social media, in addition to his being a politician, but in other cases this could be an actor, or a singer, or a stepfather, or an uncle, or a boyfriend who crosses the basic line of a woman's personal freedom to say "NO". What do the rest of us then do?
When these girls and women decide to share their traumatizing experiences with us, do we dismiss them, do we say "Well, she survived it, nothing much really happened to her"? Do the rest of us begin our response to such news with the obligatory complaint that women "can't even be courted anymore"?
Are we genuinely incapable of distinguishing between natural behavior that involves mutual consent and behavior that involves the power dynamic of sexual violence? According to statistics almost every other girl living here who is 15 years old or older has encountered sexual harassment.
How many such girls are there in our own circles? How many will never tell us what happened to them because they know we will never stand up for them?
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