Rape is a Global Issue
On December 16, 2012, a 23-year-old female Indian student was traveling on a bus in India's capital, New Delhi, with a male companion and was attacked by six men who took turns to rape her. As if that wasn't enough, "They also beat the couple and inserted an iron rod into her body resulting in severe organ damage. Both of them were then stripped and thrown off the [moving] bus, according to police." Among the rapists-now-killers? A fruit seller, a bus driver, and a gym instructor. The young woman, whose name has not been revealed, although some are calling her Amanat (not her real name), was suffering from severe organ failure as a result of the rape when she passed away a few hours ago in a hospital in Singapore where she was taken for treatment. By the time she was admitted in to the Singapore hospital, she had already had a heart attack, her lungs and abdomen were infected badly, and she had received a brain injury.
Another rape case: A 17-year-old victim of a different gang rape committed suicide today (Dec. 28)--the police were pressuring her to drop the charges against the criminals and marry one of her attackers.
A third rape case: On December 4, 2012, a 6-year-old Hindu girl from Umerkot in Pakistan's Sindh Province was raped; journalists who reported the incident were threatened with death by the perpetrators. A petition has been created in order to help bring justice for the victim.
A fourth rape case: On December 23, 2012, a 14-year-old Hindu girl also from Umerkot was raped by a local political leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with two accomplices who guarded the door while the rape took place; the young girl's mother was tortured as well.
When the death of the 23-year-old victim was announced, everyone who was aware of the case already or was only just learning about it was shaken. It was fortunate that the case received significant media attention, perhaps because of the public demonstrations and mass protests in India. They began the day the rape took place and have continued since. Protestors are calling for stringent punishments for rapists, suggesting the death penalty in addition to shaming and naming the rapists and other sexual predators.
The New Delhi Gang Rape: "Tragedies of Indian women" (Women's Power Hub); "the perils of being a woman in India" (CNN)
"New Delhi rape exposes the perils of being a woman in India," reads the title of a CNN article... as though women are any more safer elsewhere, as though women are in "danger" in "India"!
CNN is not the only source perpetrating ignorance on the web: on Twitter, the "Women's Power Hub" tweeted:"#sexuarevolutionplus Bus gang rape of a medical student in rape capital Delhi stirs India: Tragedies of Indian women http://bit.ly/TLlM70"
What! This is not among the "tragedies of Indian women"! It doesn't "suck" being an Indian woman (as some are saying on Facebook and on Twitter), and New Delhi is not the "most unsafest" place on earth; neither are "Indian" women any more in danger because of the New Delhi rapes than they are elsewhere. As Demon Lily tweeted, "If India is [to] be singled out for anything, it shd be for the protests. Indian women showed their anger." Yes! Rape cases rarely get media attention, but the only "good" that has come out of the New Delhi gang rape cases is the public outcry, the demand for justice and a better treatment of women.
The preposterous statements and conclusions being made in response to the New Delhi rapes referenced earlier reinforce colonialist and orientalist ideas about the "brown woman," who clearly needs to be saved "from the brown man by the white man." How should we measure the safety of a city or place for a woman? By having a female walk and roam freely in the streets of that city late at night wearing whatever she is comfortable wearing and not feeling afraid at all, not fearing that she may be attacked at any moment, not lurking around uncomfortably and anxiously hoping that no one will harm her. That's how all cities should be, Indian or non-Indian. I'm not going to compare cities or crime rates here, since that is not and should not be the point, but those who are making sweeping statements about "the tragedies of Indian women" need to ask themselves: how many American cities can a woman feel comfortably safe in, wearing whatever she wants, walking however late she wants or needs, acting however she wants? I can't think of any myself. But when we hear of American women being victims of gang rapes or rapes in general, who has the audacity to talk about "the tragedies of the American women"? Then why is it acceptable and "natural" to do this in non-American, non-Western, Indian, Middle Eastern, "Eastern" cases?
Men are Raped Too
I'm not implying we should not highlight the Indian case - but I'm saying we should not isolate it and present it as a tragedy of Indian women. Because it's not a tragedy of Indian women. It's a universal tragedy, and women alone are not always the victims--anywhere: men are, too. In fact, 1 in 33 men in the U.S. alone are or have been at least once in their lifetime victims of sexual assault and rape. For women, it is 1 in every 6. This is only from what has been reported, and I trust we know better than to think that all rape and assault cases are always reported; they're not, not even in the U.S. Although fewer men than women are victims of rape and other sexual assaults, men suffer just as much as women, and I think it is unfair to compare who suffers more--again, because that should not be the point. The point is that rape victims suffer immensely emotionally, mentally, physically, and we as a human race need to do whatever it takes to stop supporting rapists and other criminals, justifying rape when it happens, and blaming the victim.
The Woman's Dress, Victim-blaming, and Power
On December 24, 2012 Swaziland, a country in southern Africa bordered by Mozambique and South Africa, outlawed mini-skirts and other revealing clothes for women because "The act of a rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women"; the same spokesperson also says, "I have read from the social networks that men and even other women have a tendency of 'undressing people with their eyes'. That becomes easier when the clothes are hugging or are more revealing." The spokesperson goes on to claim that "women wearing revealing clothing [are] responsible for assaults or rapes committed against them."
This is a very popular idea among most, if not all, societies, regardless of their moral, religious, spiritual beliefs. Some Muslims go as far as to claim that the hijab, a head-covering that many Muslim women wear, necessarily protects women from rape and other sexual assaults. Since this claim is too popular and needs to be analyzed and discussed in depth, I won't discuss it here but will do so in a blog series I have begun on sexual harassment. However, I would like to direct readers to an a powerful article entitled "The Myth of How the Hijab Protects Women against Sexual Assault." Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that rape is not about a man's sexual urges being fulfilled and has little to nothing with what the victim wears. Keep this in mind: males get raped, too, so it's hardly about "sexual drives" or the clothing; children get raped, too, regardless of what they wear; statistics show that less than 7% women under 29 years of age get raped (in the U.S.); rape, molestation, and other sexual abuse take place in countries and societies where women cover their bodies from head to toe (Pakistan is a prime example of this: I'm from a part of Pakistan where women are required to cover their whole bodies, including the face, and they still face sexual harassment and rape regularly. Because of the stigma attached to rape due to issues of shame and honor, it's seldom reported. But Pakistan is just one such example that proves the "clothing triggers rape/sexual assault" claim wrong. Then again, it cannot and should not claimed that there's one particular reason for why men rape.) females who are alone, vulnerable (e.g., physically, mentally, or emotionally weak, disturbed, or challenged) have a higher chance of being abused; hardly 9% of rapes are committed by strangers (the rest are by people the victim knows, a high percentage of them family or relatives); not all rapists are men: female rapists exist, too, although not at high rates.
The above points support the viewpoint that rape and other sexual abuse are not about the clothing being worn at the time or the assault: they are about power, control. It makes the rapist or abuser feel like he's the winner, he's in control, he's powerful--while the victim is in his mind powerless. This is the case when men rape, certainly, but makes sense when women rape, too: they tend to rape men whom they see as "lesser" than they, or who are vulnerable to the attack. Psychologists also believe that rapists (and other offenders) suffer from some sort of trauma and personality defects--and that most rapists/offenders have been victims of rape or other abuse themselves at least once in their lifetime. The cyclic nature of rape and other abuse has been discussed widely among academics and professionals (see, for example, the book The Female Fear: The Social Cost of Rape by Margaret Gordon and Stephanie Riger) but needs to be made a point of discussion among the rest of society members as well.
While there are certainly far more reasons (or perhaps none at all?) why rape exists, the claim that it's triggered by what the victim wears is hardly, if at all, accurate.
Rape, like all other forms of (sexual, physical) abuse, occurs because society allows it to. As a human race, we have yet to unanimously agree on the petty act of rape and that it is always the rapist's fault, never the victim's. There's something called "sex" and something else, absolutely unjustifiable, called "rape." People generally want sex, not rape. Rape is the violation of a human body, dignity, existence. When someone touches someone without the consent or permission of the person being touched, that's physical harassment, or sexual if the part of the body being touched forcibly is a sexual/intimate part; it becomes rape when penetration is involved.
So, a woman wearing a mini-skirt does not want to be raped; she doesnot deserve to be raped. No, it is false that a man cannot control himself and that rape is a response to the man's sexual urges. It's not any man's natural tendency to hurt, humiliate, scar, and emotionally and mentally mutilate a woman or another man for life just because he's in the mood for sex! Rape is about control. It's about power.
Marital Rape: sex with an unwilling marriage partner (usually the wife)
The definition of rape--which is: sex with an unwilling person--hints at the fact that husbands, too, can rape their wives. It's called marital rape since it's rape in which the parties involved are married to each other. Very few societies have acknowledge marital rape as a crime; in the U.S., too, it was legally acceptable until 1984, when it became a crime and is now punishable (in Scotland, marital rape became a crime in 1991; 1991 in England!). "Marital rape? Whaaa? How do you rape your own wife?" Precisely! How does one do that? It's very simple: the husband has has sex with her when she's not in the mood, when she's not ready for it, when she does not want it, when she has explicitly or implicitly said she does not want it at the moment--but you ignore her, emotionally (or physically) blackmail her by saying things like, "You're never in the mood." Or, "Remember: if I go to sleep not being sexually satisfied tonight, the angels will curse you all night long." Or, "Remember - it's a huge sin if you do not have sex with me when I want it; it is your (sole) obligation towards me." Just because she previously indulged in intimacy or sex with her husband does not mean that he owns her now and can touch her any time he wants; whether, how, and when he touches her should be completely consensual, agreed upon by both partners, and when it's not consensual, it's a violation of the woman's sexuality, dignity, body, being.
That's rape. It's the rape of one's own wife. Marital rape. Understand that the wife, as the husband, should feel fully safe in the marriage, and the husband should never force himself on her; when he does, he is violating her body--because the body still belongs to the woman, not to anyone else, and the wife needs to be able to take legal action if she wants to. No wife should be guilt-trapped or otherwise forced or compelled into sleeping with her husband when she is not the mood or simply does not want it. Rape is just not the answer.
Although I have no doubt that many husbands rape their wives to prove themselves and to their wives how "powerful" they are or that they are in control--or to teach their wives a lesson about never again saying no to them when they (the husbands) are in the mood--some husbands do it because they don't know that it's morally wrong. This is why we need to talk about marital rape, declare it completely unacceptable, and stop manipulating religious beliefs and teachings to justify it. We need to do the same with all other rapes.
The Loss, the Tragedy, and Possible Lessons for Us All
We've lost at least two human lives that we know of in just one day as a result of rape. May these two ladies, and the many we are not hearing about, rest in peace, and may their families be blessed with peace as well as they struggle to understand what is happening around them. May these women's tragic experiences and sufferings serve to be a reminder to us all of how much more work we have to do as the human race, as a global community linked today more than ever before, to bring justice to all victims. But let us also acknowledge and applaud the public demonstrations taking place in India today that are fighting for justice, and let us stand with them. Let us avoid making sweeping generalizations and conclusions about entire societies and countries and peoples because of a few isolated case and recognize that we are all in this together as a human body, that this rapes are one of those unjustifiable crimes that are universal. Let us stand with the victim and fight against the perpetrator and ensure, in what modest or grand ways we might be capable of, that justice is served. Let us remember that these ladies were not just our sisters, mothers, wives, daughters, cousins, friends--they were humans, and they had a right to life just like everyone else. We should not fight for their right to safety just because we may have female family members and other loved ones we would never want to see in their condition; we should fight for their right to safety and just treatment because they were human beings like all of us.
Peace be on us all, everywhere and anywhere, at all times. Aameen.
Orbala is an Islamic Studies student with emphasis on gender relations in Islamic law and Muslim societies.
Disclaimer: Views here do not necessarily reflect those of Young Women for Change, or of Safeworld or its staff.