Photo credit: Rape Crisis Scotland.
I wrote a blog about rape less than a month ago, after a man in a position of enormous power within the legal system, decided to put forward his frankly grotesque view that a woman dressed a certain way and on a night out, may be subtly to blame for being raped, should that happen. It depresses me that within just a few weeks, here I am again. Same subject, but this time, different continent.
Today, I read a news story about the fatal gang rape of a woman in Delhi. A BBC documentary is being made about the rape case and the impact it's had in India and indeed, the world. It goes without saying that there is a huge trigger warning for the news story I read, which can be found here. It's also fair to say that I should offer a trigger warning for this blog, as I will be quoting from that article from this point onwards.
The makers of the BBC documentary interviewed one of the men convicted for the attack. During the interview, he made some statements about rape that didn't just make me feel a little uncomfortable. They made me disgusted. Because nowhere, in any part of the world, regardless of cultural differences, should we be accepting statements like the ones I am about to respond to, here. And yet the man interviewed, Mukesh Singh, made his comments freely and no doubt will hold on to his conviction that he is correct until such time as a date for his execution is set. And the truly frightening thing is that there are still people out there - in India and closer to home - who agree with him.
With that in mind, I spent a while trying to decide what form this blog should take. In the end, I decided the simplest is often the best. And so, I will be quoting from Mukesh Singh's interview (in bold) and responding to each comment in turn. Here goes...
"A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night."
The victim, known as "Jyoti," was on a bus, travelling home with a male friend, having been to see a film at the cinema. She wasn't "roaming around." She wasn't doing anything wrong. All she was doing was heading home from a perfectly innocent night out. A group of men chose to attack and rape her. Their decision had nothing to do with whether Jyoti was a "decent" girl (whatever that means). She gave them no reason to think ill of her. They simply made the choice to rape her, causing her such horrific injuries that she died two weeks later. That's all on them.
"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy."
No. She really isn't. Jyoti was travelling home on a bus with a friend. "Boys" decided, for no reason other than that she was a woman, daring to be outside of the house, to attack her, even inserting iron bars into her, causing catastrophic internal injuries. Jyoti was not in any way responsible for their decision to rape her. No woman is ever responsible for being raped. We talk about women dressing provocatively, going out late at night and getting drunk as though that makes them walking targets for rape, when we should be talking about why attackers make the choice to rape in the first place. Because it is - like all forms of abuse - a choice. The implication that a woman brings about her own rape by wearing a short dress, or walking home alone at night is frankly offensive to men, as it assumes that if they come across a woman dressed like that, or alone in a dark place, their default setting is to want to rape her. That's simply not true of a massive majority of decent men out there! It's time we changed the conversation. We need to drop the "where was she? What was she wearing?" line of questioning and stop placing blame on the victim.
"Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night, doing the wrong things, wearing the wrong clothes."
Define "wrong." Because it sounds like a pretty subjective viewpoint, to me. For example, I think it's "wrong" to be a rapist. So do most decent human beings.
Granted, I'm talking about a different culture to the one I live in, but it also depresses me enormously to see women relegated to the role of housekeeper, like this. That's all we're good for; cleaning, cooking, raising the kids...?
That viewpoint is so out of date, it's growing mould. And of course, once again, placing blame on the deceased victim for having the audacity to be outside at night, wearing clothes deemed "wrong" by her attackers, is a convenient way to remove their own responsibility for what they did. But try as they might, the fact remains: A girl got on a bus. She did nothing wrong. They attacked and raped her. The responsibility is all on them.
"About 20% of girls are good."
Care to provide the evidence to back up this claim, Mr Singh? Thought not...
"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape."
Yes, you read that right. If someone wants to rape a woman, she should just be silent and let them get on with it. Because we have no worth, clearly. We should shut up and let men do whatever they like.
Women who are raped are often too terrified to fight back. Often shock renders them completely still/numb and as much as they may desperately want to, they find themselves unable to fight their attacker. When a woman does manage to fight back, she's doing so because she doesn't want to be raped!! She's giving you a very, very clear signal that she wants you to stop. So it's hardly surprising that a man convicted of rape would find such a fight-back inconvenient; he doesn't like the word "no."
This statement also led to Singh accusing the victim of being responsible for her male friend being beaten up by the gang of rapists, when he tried to defend her. Again, no. A gang of men made the choice to rape Jyoti in the first place. When her friend came to her aid, they decided to beat him. None of these were decisions Jyoti made. The blame is not on her.
Incredibly, Singh goes on to suggest that if he and his fellow rapists are executed, more rape victims will end up being murdered. He claims that rapists won't simply leave girls after they've raped them, now, but will kill them in order to avoid being found out. And Singh seems to feel that he and his fellow rapists did the decent thing, by not leaving Jyoti dead at the scene...
Singh's defence lawyers were also interviewed for the documentary and appeared to be in agreement that a woman being out at night in the company of a man had "disgraced herself." One, shockingly, claimed: "We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman."
Of course, what he means is: "There's no place for a woman besides doing the housework, because that - and sexual availability (whether expressed or not) - is all a woman is good for."
Pictured: That misogynistic point of view.
Recently, a person has been contacting me over and over via an account I co-run on Twitter, following a debate on consent. They want to know whether I agree that women should be taught to protect themselves from rape. Because of the pushy nature of the questioning, I've ceased engaging with this person, but I'll clarify here:
Teaching young people - not just women - basic safety is common sense. However, that safety advice should never be seen as guidance for preventing rape. Girls should never be told that if they dress a certain way, drink too much or walk home alone, that they're inviting rape. The responsibility for rape lies solely with the rapist. It's a choice they make.
Talking about how to avoid rape, with the best intentions, suggests that women can somehow prevent it. The awful truth is that we often can't. Women can be raped at home by their partners. They can be raped at work or social events by people they know. We have to step away from the idea that rape is something that happens to drunk girls in dark alleyways, at the hands of total strangers. The conversation we need to be having is about consent and that anything less than freely given, informed consent should be a big stop-sign, when it comes to sex. We need to be talking about respect and boundaries. We need to be tackling the actual root problem - the rapists - not the excuses they give for their actions.
I'll end this blog with a quote from Jyoti's mother. Speaking about the rape and murder of her daughter, she said:
"Whenever there's (a rape), the girl is blamed. She should not go out...or wear such clothes. It's the boys who should be accused and asked why they do this."
Got it in one.
*The documentary, Storyville - India's Daughter, is due to air on BBC 4 at 10pm on Sunday 8th March.