A lot of people live with unprocessed resentment for women due to a myriad factors

No 122 – Gender Violence? What Gender Violence?

Paulina Dembska
Paulina Dembska

What are we skinning? The police claiming that the brutal rape and murder of Polish national Paulina Dembska was in no way related to her gender, during a crime conference last Thursday.

Why are we skinning it? Because it confirms that misogyny – whether by accident or design – remains baked into the country’s cultural and institutional set-up.

Hold up… Hey, wouldn’t ‘hold on’ be a better choice of words in this context?

This no time for jokes. Well, I’d dispute that really… the fateful police statement certainly suggests that a dark and misplaced sense of humour is very much being considered in this whole affair…

Anyway what I wanted to say is… don’t you think it’s a tad unfair to nitpick over issues of identity politics when there’s more urgent and tangible aspects of the crime that need to be seen to? The fact that you consider Dembska’s gender as being an ‘intangible’ in the whole affair speaks volumes about your perspective on the crime and others like it (as well as that of the apparently – depressingly – prevailing status quo in the wider culture).

I never said that her gender was ‘intangible’. Just that it may not be the central thing to consider when it comes to the crime. The very police report that was quoted from during Thursday’s press conference described a harrowing sexual assault that for obvious – and indeed, distressingly ‘tangible’ – reasons cannot but be attributed to the victim’s gender.

Still, what would be gained by stressing the victim’s gender this case? Transparency and context. Or, to put it in less abstract terms: a message from the police that the reality of gender-based violence is being taken seriously in this country, instead of being swept under the rug.

Why would the police want to sweep such a thing under the rug, though? My fear is that we’re actually looking at a large, lumpy rug that pretty much everyone in Malta has taken the liberty of using for that exact same purpose.

Could you elaborate…? Acknowledging that a particular brand of violence is reserved for women in particular would require facing up to the fact that a lot of people live with unprocessed resentment for that gender as a whole due to a myriad factors - none of them pleasant. And nobody is willing to undergo such a diagnosis without a fight. Least of all a reactionary-by-default entity like the police force.

But again, the exigencies of needing to get to the bottom of such a crime means that such soul-searching should take a backseat for now. Yes, until the next murder of this kind shocks us back into the need for soul-searching once again…

Do say: “It is the police’s job to investigate crimes, and not cater to the ideological concerns of every single facet of society. However, it is deeply jarring – if not downright insulting – to claim that the rape and murder of a young woman has nothing to do with gender.”

Don’t say: “I’m sure plenty of women will feel more secure in coming forward on issues of gender violence now that the police have effectively decided that that particular crime doesn’t even exist in Malta in the first place.”