Ukrainian journalist Nastya Melnychenko recently exposed the numerous incidences of sexual abuse that Ukrainian and Russian women have suffered behind closed doors. Melnychenko’s post on Facebook this week revealed her own personal experiences of sexual harassment, commencing when she was just six years old. Since her post on social media, an online campaign has been established under the hashtag #IAmNotScaredToSpeak to prompt women to share their own stories and experiences. The aim of this campaign is to promote emotional healing amongst the women whilst simultaneously heightening public awareness of the widespread problem. Melnychenko suggests that a severe social stigma prevents women from informing authorities and seeking justice. The blame that women place on themselves is unjustified, says Melnychenko, as no guilt should be felt by the women for simply being victims of sexual abuse.
The unmistakable power of social media has been clearly exhibited, as the Facebook post received hundreds of shares and comments from women detailing their experiences of abuse. Melnychenko, through using social media as an effective platform for discussion, has thus created a virtual environment in which Russian and Ukrainian women feel comfortable to voice their grievances. Unlike Australia’s gradual attempts to remove the stigma attached to domestic violence under the Sydney Morning Herald’s #ShineALightCampaign and Rosie Batty’s work as Australian of the Year 2015, the issue remains a taboo topic in these conservative European countries. Yet, this powerful movement on Facebook has revealed that women have routinely experienced sexual abuse at the hands of strangers, family friends, relatives, doctors and tutors.
Melnychenko recognises that the key to justice for victims of sexual abuse is to speak out and raise awareness, as it can no longer remain a prohibited point of conversation. Changing social constructs and behaviour is imperative in order to avoid future experiences worldwide, not just in Ukraine and Russia. There has been an interesting response from Ukrainian and Russian men, with mixed perspectives highlighting the complexity of the issue. However, many were completely oblivious of the extent to which girls and women are traumatised by incidences of sexual abuse and violence. The most controversial response to Melnychenko’s viral post is, perhaps unsurprisingly, from the Moscow Institute of Psychoanalysis. The Institute claims that the Facebook post is actually provoking potential rapists, whilst questioning the legitimacy of the women’s stories of sexual harassment. Moreover, blogger Anton Nossik defended the actions of men, which is a common standpoint in Russian society. In fact in 2008, a St Petersburg judge seemed exasperated by the fuss over rape cases and accordingly pronounced that ‘if we had no sexual harassment we would have no children.’ Such a backward approach to the deeply entrenched issue of sexual abuse is exactly what Melnychenko is fighting against in her Facebook post.
Sexual abuse is never justifiable, a point that Melnychenko established on the basis of her own personal experiences. There is hope that attitudes are changing in Ukraine and Russia, however such social perspectives must evolve significantly before any progress is made to bring these women justice.