Photo courtesy of AFWNT
For those of you asking why these women waited so long to speak out about the sexual assault, I hope the following reasons will open your eyes and hearts and lead you to be kinder and more respectful towards the victims:
1. Women are often blamed for being sexually assaulted or harassed. The assumption that it is always the woman’s fault has prevented soccer players from coming forward because of the fear society will degrade them. This is evidenced in the way the Afghan women athletes who recently came forward were treated.
2. For victims of sexual assault in a patriarchal society like Afghanistan, where women are considered second-class citizens, it is extremely difficult to even find an opportunity to speak out.
3. Afghan football players did not speak out sooner because they were fearful of the consequences. Some of the major obstacles women face when it comes to reporting sexual harassment and assault is the risk of losing their jobs, fear of losing their dignity or dishonoring their families, the chance they might lose credibility, fear for their physical safety, and the possibility that people may not believe them.
4. Another reason women do not come forward to report sexual assault is the fear of feeling shame. Women that experience sexual harassment and assault often feel dehumanized, humiliated, or unworthy. Victims can blame themselves for being violated, which becomes a barrier to more women reporting sexual harassment.
5. In a conservative society like Afghanistan, where the honor of the family is more important than the safety of an individual, for a woman to bring dishonor to their family by claiming they were sexually assaulted means they could be killed or violently attacked.
6. Afghan society expects women to be virgins until marriage, and women reporting sexual harassment and assault can face the death penalty. Also, most Afghans will refuse to marry sexual assault victims because they are no longer seen as “pure” or “suitable” partners.
7. Being sexually violated and assaulted is such a degrading feeling that victims often become mute. Their self-respect, humanity, and dignity are taken away from them. It breaks them to the core and makes it physically difficult to report the assault.
8. Afghan women athletes who are sexually assaulted or harassed by men in positions of authority often find themselves without a path to justice. In fact, victims are labeled opportunists, blamed for the assault, and punished for speaking out. Afghan soccer players have been intimidated and prevented from coming forwards in the past by high-ranking officials’ power and influence.
9. A huge reason why the Afghan football players remained silent and did not report the sexual assault was the fear of retaliation. The AFF president threatened to kill them and often removed them from the team if they even complained to other athletes.
10. The president of the AFF destroyed these Afghan football players’ self-esteem and self-image when he sexually violated and assaulted them. When women are harassed and assaulted, their integrity and confidence is taken from them and they are often unable to report the assault.