Last month, global citizens were collectively horrified upon reading, seeing, and hearing about the brutal gang rape of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old college student, in the waning hours of a Delhi night by at least six men on a public bus. The duration and viciousness of the attack eventually killed the victim, after the failed attempt to stop the brain hemorrhaging and bleeding internal organs. Her male friend, Awindra Pandey who was traveling with her, was also savagely beaten and now suffers the physical and emotional scars of being forced to witness the inhumane violation of the friend he was trying to protect.
Protests erupted around the world, but most vehemently and notably in India, a country where the firmly entrenched patriarchal culture allows the lawyers of the victims’ attackers to blame the victim for the attack. In an interview outside India’s Supreme Court, Manohar Lal Sharma, a lawyer for one of the attackers, stated that he had never heard of a respectable lady being raped in India. In a country where, according to the BBC, a rape is reported every 21 minutes – at times with children as young as ten months old – it is with alarming regularity that these attacks occur. The rapist, if convicted, is given a lenient sentence, and the victim, if she survives, is forced to contend with the disfiguring physical and psychological scars that the assault and ensuing shame leave.
These terrible accounts are by no means isolated to India. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a rape is committed every minute, often at the hands of rebel soldiers amidst the country’s long, bloody civil wars. In this instance, rape is a multi-faceted weapon used between two warring groups: the attacker and his victim, who are of opposing factions of a civil war. By raping his victim, he potentially impregnates her in an attempt to ensure that she gives birth to a child that is identified as one of his people, rather than of the mother’s. If pregnancy does not occur, the attacker also has the opportunity to infect his victim with any host of sexually transmitted diseases and infections since prophylactics are never used. In the case that pregnancy and infection do not occur, the attacker at least veritably ruins his victim’s life—as the shame associated with being a rape victim prevents a woman from marrying, finding employment, or being seen as anything other than “damaged goods.” When enough women, who comprise roughly half of a population, are considered too damaged for procreation, the future of any people’s livelihood has the capacity to crumble.
Male on female rape statistics for 2010 provided by the United Nations, show that while developing nations such as Botswana, Grenada, and Nicaragua have alarmingly high rates of attacks, the number of rapes in countries such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States do not fall far behind. According to these statistics, South Africa has the highest number of rapes, at 120 attacks per 100,000 people. These statistics, however, reflect only those attacks that have been recorded by the police, which indicate that many more rapes throughout the world remain unreported and underrepresented. Rape is not a developing nation vs. developed nation problem; it is a worldwide epidemic that potentially puts approximately half of the global population in danger as each moment without education and preventive initiatives passes.
Yet women are told, time and again, by the media, by legislators, and by law enforcers, that we must do whatever we can to prevent ourselves from being attacked – don’t go out alone, don’t go out at night, don’t wear provocative clothing, be armed with some sort of weapon, be a respectable woman. But a global patriarchal culture and its subsequent portrayal of its victims as somehow partially or fully responsible will not be effectively fought with some sort of weapon and modest clothing. While these measures may be pragmatic and effective in an individual case, they do nothing to stem the attackers themselves. Telling women that they need to prevent themselves from being raped, in effect, puts the onus on the woman – if she is raped, she did not prevent it from happening well enough– while her attacker, the determinant of this act of a scarring violation of body and mind, is not mentioned in rape prevention at all. Yet again, the victim is blamed for her own attack.
Was Singh to blame for her utterly terrifying, excruciating rape that eventually led to her death? A smart, young woman studying for her master’s degree, who followed the proscribed measures to maintain her safety by traveling with a respectable man on well-lit, public transportation in a seemingly good part of the city? Are the women of the strife-ridden DRC, virtual refugees in their own land, to blame for the war crimes committed against them when soldiers violate them as a means of social destruction? Of course not.
Until we see real changes to this global culture of these attitudes towards rape and its victims, the protest gains in India will be short-lived.
Kara McManus recently completed her MEd in Higher Education Administration from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She also has a BA in Communication Studies from the University of Oregon and an MA in English from Clemson University. She currently lives in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi.