Korean YouTuber Mhyochi (Hyojeong Park) was sexually harassed on a Mumbai street while livestreaming and predictably, her ordeal didn’t stop there. Two people were arrested and eventually granted bail for sexually harassing her. No one would have expected that after the arrest and the video “proof"- for that is the most crucial piece of information the world demands of sexual assault victims- it would be smooth sailing for Hyojeong.
Her case proved (if it ever needed proving), that the demand for proof and timing and the detailed dissection of everything from a victim’s clothing to gestures is hardly out of any concern for justice. Instead, it’s a deliberate ploy to obfuscate the truth and make it contingent upon a range of increasingly impossible parameters.
Sympathy is a double-edged sword. Indian society functions in extremes; so, after a person has been sexually harassed, it either “didn’t happen" and is “no big deal", or it did happen and that person’s virtue, the purpose of life, and any possibility of meaningful existence has been “ruined forever". The survivor then has no option but to buckle under society’s mountain of disappointment on their behalf. Here, Hyojeong took a different approach. She decided to tweet out and share with her followers the steps she took in the aftermath of the incident, from DMing the Mumbai Police to directly hitting out at people telling her she had done “something wrong".
Thank you Inspector @avinashn44 and his team who brought two guys who harassed me into custody. I really appreciated for your work! dhanyawadAnd now i am going to the khar police station to go to the court! @MumbaiPolice pic.twitter.com/tWo4miXiwc— Mhyochi in (@mhyochi) December 3, 2022
The society doesn’t just want a sexual harassment victim to furnish proof upon proof. Still, once that is established, the person must also display an appropriate amount of devastation and project the image of perfect, morose victimhood. Hyojeong went about life as usual as far as her public persona on social media goes. She tweeted photos of herself drinking chai, meeting the people who helped her, thanking people for their support and giving out interviews.
Where this could have been treated as an example of how silence and shame need not be the only options available to a survivor when it comes to their public interactions, people instead entirely gave away their suspicion of those who depart from the societal script and cast doubt on its structures. Hyojeong began to be accused of “milking" the incident for Internet fame.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not if Hyojeong did actually “use" the incident for fame, but if her- or anyone else- doing so is such a bad thing after all. As human beings in a capitalist society, we believe in the need to be “valuable" in a way that has societal sanction. In a capitalist society, it is our instinct to take something that happened to us and create value out of it.
As human beings in any society, starting from prehistoric ones, our instinct is to chronicle, to perform, whether the audience is one or one million. Remember the adage from ‘Rockstar’: “toote huye dil se sangeet nikalta hai“? Artists have forever been taking personal tragedy and making art out of it. Is it only acceptable when what comes out of it is a shiny, “virtuous" product?
The question of “milking it" is one that should be directed against people in positions of power, or people who do it at the cost of other people, like someone bringing food to a homeless person and making a spectacle out of it. It is not an accusation to be levelled against someone who has taken a traumatic incident and moved it to the public realm. At any rate, this is something that should happen in Indian society where people would even die silently for fear of making too much of a spectacle out of themselves. It is morbidly ironic in a country in which entire mechanisms of power depend on the game of optics, drama, and spectacle.
So if we- even if we think we are “decent" and “nice" people in all the ways that count- have asked ourselves if indeed Hyojeong “milked" her trauma for fame, we should be asking ourselves why that, out of everything, is the question we want to be answered.
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