Following two gang rapes and several threats, a 16-year-old girl set herself on fire in India. She died from her injuries on New Year’s Eve, eight days after the second attack.
The information behind the attack shows that victim blaming is still alive and well worldwide, and this needs to change.
The girl was attacked and raped by six men in Oct. 2013. After reporting it to the police, the same men raped her again. The men were arrested, but her family continued to receive threats — including demanding her father to shut down his taxi business. I can only imagine these pressures and threats are what contributed to her death.
While trying to prove a point this past November, one of the top ranked police officials in India, Ranjit Sinha, said the following: “If you can’t prevent rape, you should enjoy it.”
Sinha works for the Central Bureau of Investigation in India. The CBI’s main tasks include investigating cases regarding murder, rape, terrorism and government corruption.
However, law enforcement officials in India have a history of not taking reports of rape very seriously, failing to thoroughly investigate more than half of all rape cases reported to them.
While this statement may have been careless on Sinha’s part, it shows that certain beliefs regarding women and rape are largely internalized.
From a human rights perspective, this statement is outrageous, degrading and deeply concerning. It implies that women are not victims of rape; they should simply adopt a new attitude and the whole problem will respectively blow over.
But women certainly are victims of rape, particularly in India, where one rape is said to occur every 20 minutes.
And that’s just the reported cases. In 2011, the National Crime Records Bureau reported 24,206 cases of rape in India. However, it is estimated that only 40 per cent of rape cases are actually reported, meaning that this figure should be more than doubled.
Incidents of rape in India have gone up by a monstrous 873 per cent in the past 60 years. Regarding the number of children raped, in the past 10 years that number has increased by 336 per cent. While it is possible that these increases are due to more spotlights being shed on the situation, they still reveal that this problem is enormous.
Last year the gang rape and resulting death of a New Delhi student activated a similar outrage through India and the world. Directly following this case, the Indian government set up a commission to update the law.
However, the passing of such legislation is much easier than the actual implementation of it. Only one out of 706 rape cases filed in 2012 ended in conviction — the infamous New Delhi rape.
Enforcing laws regarding rape is difficult because much of the problem comes from the internalization of attitudes such as misogyny, tradition and patriarchy. These ideas are set in stone from a very young age, beginning with selective abortion. In a society where men are valued above women, the roots of the issue run extremely deep.
Clearly there is a reason women do not go to the police. They will only be further blamed and humiliated because rape is not treated as a serious crime.
Many women also do not want to appear in court; they are merely traumatized and shamed further through the experience. There is fear that speaking out will lead to ostracism by their communities or families, since rape is viewed as a loss of their honour.
This perspective sheds immense light onto victim blaming. When a woman is raped, she is often viewed as being responsible for the rape herself. Many women are questioned in courts about their whereabouts and if they have the protection of someone in public.
This only ends in a circle, leading back to the idea that the rape was caused by the woman’s own decisions or unfortunate circumstances. I can only imagine how deeply mortifying and discouraging this would feel.
Because rape happens so often and because men who hold certain beliefs are often the ones dealing with rape cases, this attitude is extremely difficult to shed. If going to the police does not help a woman’s situation, then where can she go?
When no safety or protection is offered, it makes it much easier for attackers to get away with rape with virtually no consequences. Combined with the extreme number of rape cases, it seems as though rape is just a commonplace activity.
India is obviously not the only place where rape occurs, but the high numbers and lack of concrete action to change do spark a concern worldwide. Women around the world are emotionally and physically abused in ways that I can’t even begin to fully comprehend. It’s horrific that these crimes are not always taken seriously.
After this incident with the 16-year-old girl, it is clear that Indian law has only changed on paper. While progress may have been made in some instances, it is not enough. Laws and attitudes must change together in order for a true transformation to occur.
This recent case has sparked a fierce outcry, with many people demonstrating their anger and desire for change. Hopefully this time more action will be taken, and the demonstrations will result in a change that is very necessary.
Women make up just over half of the human population. It’s crucial they receive both the justice and respect they deserve.
Photo: Chris Hacking / Flickr