Anybody with a shred of human empathy will find it gut-wrenching to watch the video of a Maltese woman being assaulted at a bachelor party by a group of guys who pelted her with hundreds of eggs.
But there are some people – and this is what we must analyse – who find this sort of savagery hilarious, starting with those who participated, filmed and shared the video in the first place, but certainly not ending with them.
This video didn’t go viral as a form of whistleblowing. It was shared as a trophy to show other ‘guy threads’ how funny, macho and ala żobbhom the participants were.
And then it kept being shared the way lots of violent and sexual content is shared on men’s group chats today. ‘Virtual locker talk,’ is what Donald Trump would call it. ‘A bit of online banter,’ Boris Johnson would muse.
Except it’s not, is it? This video wasn’t a bit of banter between friends. It was a violent assault for which the perpetrators should be charged in court: charges that should be aggravated by the fact that she is probably a vulnerable person, that there were children present and that the ordeal was filmed and shared for all to see, totally remorselessly and in breach of the woman’s privacy.
The organisers have defended themselves, saying the woman consented to the event and was paid for it. But that excuse is utterly pathetic.
In the video she can be heard shouting, swearing and begging them to stop, as bloody lacerations can be seen all over her body from the excessive force and sheer number of eggs being thrown at her.
In response to her pleas, the men jokingly shout “medic, medic” in between demonic laughter. One of them assures her they’re almost done, while another says: Il-kbir għadu ġej. (It’s only going to get worse.) And the poor woman is heard calling them bastards and wishing their mothers never gave birth to them.
This is not what consent looks like. This is the opposite of consent. Even if she will later defend their actions while under this public pressure.
But the question we must ask ourselves is: what makes these men see this as good, clean, consensual fun instead of the vile, criminal, nightmarish torture it actually was?
And that question also goes for probably thousands of others who watched and shared the video without batting an eyelid.
It’s interesting that the woman calls out their mothers during the ordeal, as if to cast blame on them for raising such demonic men. You could argue that their mothers should be blamed for not teaching their boys about the basic human dignity of other women.
But what say do mothers have in raising their young boys when their fathers take them to bachelor parties to participate in the assault of women as paid-for ‘consensual’ entertainment?
In my mind it’s more likely that the mothers of these men were their first victims: not assaulted with eggs perhaps, but treated like shit on a daily basis, a habit that probably learned from their fathers.
Then again, that assumes that these are particularly devious men, raised from a strain of particularly bad apples.
Maybe they’re not.
Maybe these are ordinary men who love and respect their mothers and (though I would hate to be one of them) their girlfriends or wives. They might even be your typical churchgoing men with decent fathers who taught them the fear of God at an early age. (In fact, when the woman is heard swearing at Jesus they react like tal-Muzew kids, audibly and in unison, as if they were genuinely scandalised by such cursing.)
So maybe instead of being brought up by terrible parents, they were normal people who for whatever reason were able to totally dehumanise this particular woman and treat her worse than they would an animal.
If that’s the case, then perhaps the same could happen to us and we could find ourselves at a drunken gathering where groupthink sets in and such dehumanisation takes place.
So what could cause it?
Dehumanisation takes place all the time. It’s especially easy to happen online where people are transformed into tiny avatars and you’re safely behind a keyboard. Just look at any comments board for evidence.
Dehumanisation also takes place every day in the way we talk about groups of people, such as the people crossing the Mediterranean for a better life. We see them on our TV screens and as numbers on immigration reports, and we fail to see their actual humanity. (Just think about the two soldiers who allegedly went out shooting black men for sport in the ultimate act of dehumanisation.)
In this case, the victim was standing in front of the men. She wasn’t an online avatar or part of a nameless group of people on a TV screen.
So what made her so vulnerable?
I think one element is the fact that for many years she was more of an online meme to these men than a real human being. When they watched her videos from other parties, they already saw her as less than human: a person who seemingly takes pride in being mocked and makes her living this way. This, in their eyes, made her fair game.
Secondly, she is a woman in a patriarchal Mediterranean society that already has tendencies to dehumanise women, as we see with the rate of domestic violence, femicide and the way public women are derided, be they Daphne Caruana Galizia or Sarah Zerafa.
Being a larger woman made her even more vulnerable in a society that also dehumanises fat people, particularly women who we somehow deem as being more duty-bound to look attractive.
Then there is the fact that she is a stripper in a country that institutionally dehumanises sex workers instead of giving them any form of regulation or protection.
Not to mention the fact that once they were paying her for her services, these men expected maximum return.
Whatever caused the sheer dehumanisation in this incident, it’s good that it has been made public and taken out of the sheltered space that is WhatsApp, because this is the sort of thing we must talk about and learn from.
Malta needs to understand that what happened that night wasn’t a great piece of content to share with friends.
It was a criminal act against a human being that must go punished and should never happen again.
And those of us who were horrified by this video also need to understand the dangers of lesser forms of dehumanisation we ourselves are guilty of on a daily basis.