Rape: The View from India Seems Oh So Familiar

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I know, as I write this, that I am looking at rape quite academically. Every woman–I repeat this to get it across as much to myself as to you–is at risk. I am, as I walk through darkened lanes and (when I am) the only women in the ladies’ compartment at night; at times, there is not another soul on the floor I work on…But in normal, everyday life, I do not see any of the risks inherent in these situations.

My colleagues with young daughters carry burdens of guilt: they are at work, their children return to homes not quite empty, and by most counts, safe. Yet, a report about 10-year-old boys “raping” 8-year-old girls in Mumbai sets alarm bells bringing. Schoolmates, teachers, servants, tuition masters, relatives, neighbours, whom the girls call Uncle–can anybody be trusted, they tell themselves. I know the story of 12-year-old Neena, whose servant used to undress her and play “Doctor doctor” with her every time the girl was left in his care while her parents went out for dinners or social dos. And I worry, for my colleagues daughters’ safety.

Some Myths Dispelled

Myth: Rapes happens outside, at night.
Fact: Most rapes happen in the home of the victim, the attacker or a friend. Home security is vital. Get good locks fitted, ensure that your house is well lit, and don’t open the door to strangers. Rapes can happen anytime, anywhere.

Myth: Only a certain kind of women is raped, and it can’t happen to me.
Fact: Rape happens to people of all ages, education levels, religious, sexual orientations and physical descriptions. Victims range in age from a few months to into their 90’s. Religious beliefs and education have no influence on a woman’s vulnerability. The elderly, mentally and physically disabled are often victimized because they are seen as helpless.

Myth: Rapists are usually strangers.
Fact: We’ve always feared strangers, but most victims know their attackers. The term ‘acquaintance rape’ means assaults in which the woman knows the assailant who can be someone in your classroom, a neighbour, a superior, a date, your friend’s boyfriend, etc. More acquaintance rapes go unreported than those by strangers because the woman feels more responsible. When the assailant is a friend or relative, the act is likely to end up as a completed rather than attempted assault, especially if the relationship is intimate. Research shows that women caught off guard by a familiar person are so surprised they are unable to get out of the situation.

Myth: Woman shouldn’t report rape.
Fact: Rape is a crime and all crimes should be reported.

Myth: Sudden uncontrollable sexual urges motivate rape.

Fact: Men can control their sexual urges. Rape is an act of power, anger and dominance over another. Sex is a weapon used to gain control. Rape not only violates a woman’s integrity, but her sense of safety and control over her life, too. Most rapes are reported to be planned. The rapist decides to rape, chooses a plan of attack and a victim. If it fails, he may try another plan with a different victim.

Myth: Spouses or dates can’t be charge with rape–by consenting to be with them, you have consented to intercourse.
Fact: Forcing anyone into intercourse against his/her will is rape. A woman may choose to date or marry someone; she may or many not want sex with that person at any given time. Some people think a man has a right to sex as payment for a date or as part of his marriage vows. Social attitudes are the main reason for this. Thus, acquaintance rapes are more difficult to prosecute than stranger rapes because it is felt that if a woman reports it, she won’t be believed.

Myth: A woman’s dress and behaviour can invite rape.
Fact: …Woman may take risks which render them vulnerable to sexual assault, but blame for the rape always lies with the rapist. Woman can take steps to reduce their vulnerability: Have strong body language. Be assertive not passive. Stand up for yourself on small issues and you will assert yourself on larger ones. Be aware of your surroundings; walk purposefully.

Excerpted with permission from Conveying Concerns: Women Report on Gender-based Violence, published by the Population Reference Bureau, Washington, D.C.

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