Rosa Bransky takes a look at the recent attention focused on rape and sexual assaults.
The horrific rape of a student in India has caught the attention of the world. Newspaper reports flood the British press, depicting this despicable act in grotesque, enticing technicolour. Article after article has covered every angle – profiles of the victims, the attending officers, hospital staff, the perpetrators. Accompanying these articles has been in depth analysis of the politics of modern day India, the ‘darker side’ of economic prosperity. What begins to emerge is a narrative of Indian development, a search within the facts and figures of a sub-continent to find reasons for rape and other violence against women. India becomes a specific ‘other’, and so does its criminals, its victims, its politicians, its police and doctors. The national outcry in India does mean a light is being shone on a silent epidemic there. Here, it seems, we are still refusing to shine that same degree of light on ourselves. It’s very convenient. By ‘othering’ India, we do not have to look too closely at ourselves.
What happened on that bus in Delhi is not an Indian problem. It is a global problem with roots everywhere. According to Amnesty and the United Nations rape is now commonly used as a strategy in war. In the Democratic Republic of Congo 12% of women have been raped at least once. In South Africa, rape capital of the world, one in four men has committed rape. Recently a student, on her way to register at university there, was brutally gang raped. The incident attracted little attention in or outside the country where it’s estimated some 600,000 people are raped each year. There should be a global outcry so loud that it is deafening.
In the UK, more than 80,000 women a year are raped, two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a violent partner. 21% of girls experience some form of child sexual abuse. We can barely translate the figures into reality – the idea that one in four of our male friends might be rapists, or the woman across the road may be being beaten every night is too terrible to contemplate. How is it possible that two women, every single week, are murdered by their violent partners and we do not hear about it? How is it possible that 80,000 rapes go largely unreported?
Because there is a silent epidemic on our streets, behind our front doors too. One of the facts of the Delhi rape, the way the police dealt with Rape – a global terror the victim and her friend, and how the public failed to act for 20 minutes, seems particularly shocking to us. Yet I have worked with countless women in the UK, who have been raped, beaten, assaulted – and dismissed by the police as unreliable because of a criminal record, a drug addiction, housing status, literacy levels. We seem to need rape to be presented to us in a certain way – the virgin with clothes ripped off, the innocent victim with a long skirt and high-necked shirt who can explain, sign our forms and sit patiently waiting.
So why did it take that specific rape in India to capture our imagination? Why does it take the grotesque and the extreme to grab our attention? Is it because that particular act, in all its horror, left us with no doubt that she was not ‘asking for it’; left us in no doubt that she was a victim?
The extreme is appealing because it is definitive, the grotesque somehow being more palatable because it feels further away from our own lives. What happened in India should shed a light on what happens every day, everywhere, to women we know and women we don’t. Until we have open honest, meaningful dialogue about this global terror, nothing will ever change.