Monday, December 24, 2012

The Delhi Gang Rape

Content Note:  Sexual Violence

Ever since I first heard about this horrible rape and its consequences I have struggled to cross the cultural chasm, to understand terms which are alien to me and the meaning of sentences which appear to say something different to natives than to outsiders.  My apologies if this comes across ignorant and wrong.  I hope those who understand better can enlighten us in the comments.

The basic events are clear enough.  A young woman entered a chartered bus with a man who is her friend.  There were other people in the bus (all men?), and six (?) of them attacked the woman and her friend, extremely brutally.  They then gang-raped her and finally threw both her and the man out of the moving bus.

Both the victims were hurt, she very badly.  The medical reports vary over time (the rape took place on the sixteenth of December)  but the most recent one suggests that she is still critically ill:

As the country's frustration with administrative apathy towards sexual violence rages on, the young victim of last Sunday's vicious gangrape continues to fight for her life.

Doctors said on Monday the 23-year-old's condition remains critical. They fear the victim, admitted in the ICU, may be heading towards multiple organ failure as her condition further deteriorated on Monday.

"She is in a serious condition. She is suffering internal bleeding as the coagulation capacity of her body has reduced with time. She continues to be on the ventilator and is running a high fever of 102 to 104," Safdarjung Hospital medical superintendant Dr B.D. Athani said.
Then young Delhi erupted in demonstrations, aimed at the police apathy and extremely lax enforcement of laws when it comes to sexual violence against women.  The demonstrations themselves turned somewhat violent but whether that was the fault of the police or the demonstrators is unclear to me.  It looks like the police acted brutally.  However, a police officer has died in the demonstrations.

What lies behind these demonstrations?  In other words, what made this horrible gang rape the straw that broke the camel's back?  How are rape victims in India treated by the police and the legal system?  Probably very poorly, given the spontaneous mass protests.  On some level I admire the Indian people for this response.  It's hard for me to imagine similar protests, by both men and women, against rape and its treatment in this country, though perhaps the treatment of rape victims here is better.

Based on what I have read I get the feeling that victim-blaming is common in India in the case of rape.  Well, it's not uncommon in the United States, either, though the work of the second wave feminists made giving those opinions publicly less acceptable than it was before the 1970s.  But the idea that a victim must have somehow asked to be raped still lives.

And it lives in India, if this opinion column is representative of many men's views there:

I think I started on the topic of rape as soon as the new bottle was opened. I don’t know why I did that; I just said something that expressed my disgust at what happened in Delhi with the 23-year-old girl who is currently struggling for her life and who in all likelihood of survival will have to spend the rest of her days minus an intestine. There was silence for a while, less than a minute I think, after which one of my friends said the rape of a woman is impossible. As soon as I heard this, the alcohol level in blood dropped dramatically and I quietly repeated the bare details of the incident. “That’s possible,” my guest corrected himself, “but I cannot believe that one man can rape one woman. I mean it is not possible!”
I looked at my other friend and both of us laughed. For the next twenty minutes, the two of us tried to argue with our comrade but mostly listened. The impossibility of rape of a woman by a single man was justified on account of the fact that a woman could use her hands and legs to defend herself. What if there was a gun involved, one of us asked. Quickly an exception to the gun was made and the impossibility of rape of a woman by a man narrowed down to situations where the man was not armed. I got angry and used foul language to express my displeasure and wondered whether my guest had ever considered the possibility of him getting raped.
The bottle of rum was getting over fast and I was too wasted to argue any further unless I wanted to have a fist fight. Rape is sex without consent, my other friend said. At some point the woman agrees, pat came the reply. It got ugly after that. Most women have some connection with the rapist; some women invite rape; a large number of rape cases registered in our country are false, etc. I did not know what to make of the conversation so I tried to change the topic. We talked about other and soon it was time to eat. After my friends left I went over the conversation in my head and wondered what sort of men are we?

Bolds are mine.  The bit about "large number of rape cases"  being "false" sounds familiar to anyone who has visited the misogynist sites which pretend to be about men's rights.

It's known that some women engage in victim-blaming in the case of rape, too,  though for different reasons:  IF the rape was the victim's fault, rape cannot happen to other women who take proper precautions!

But of course it can.  While looking for material on the Delhi gang rape, I came across a piece of news about an eighty-year-old woman being raped, and such rapes are not unknown in the horrors of Congo.  It's hard to know what behavior an old woman might have engaged in to have gotten herself raped.

None of that implies that there's nothing women (or men) can do to improve their safety against predators of various kinds.  But that's not the same as accusing the victim for the rape.  Only the rapists are at fault for that,  nobody else.

So why write about these horrors?  Because those demonstrations give me hope.  People can change, cultures can change and our values can change.   But we have to work for those goals.