It would be very idealistic for one to claim that all deaths are equal. It would also be a lie. It is with irony that I quote the monstrous Stalin in this case, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Reduced to statistics, individuals lose their identities, and morph into anonymous, ambiguous numbers. Even Stalin understood that statistics aid in delivering a numerical justification that strips all responsibility for mankind’s inhumane actions towards his fellow man. Some deaths are routine; some are heavier than others.
Every 45 seconds, a woman is raped. 1 in 7 of those victims is under 18. Underaged victims who are raped in their childhood or teen years are 7 times more likely to be raped later on in their lives. 28% of rape victims are assaulted at the hands of their own husbands. 28-30% of adolescent women reported that their first sexual encounter was forced or pressured. Approximately 60% of rape incidents go unreported, leading the perpetrator to get away with even more assaults.
Statistics. Numbers do not carry the same significance as names, or the same connotations as descriptions. You would have to stop for several minutes in order to clearly understand the implications of the statistics given, to picture the horror that each victim went through and continues to go through – to imagine that it easily could have been you. But this takes time, and a significant amount of empathy that not everyone necessarily possesses; and this is why when one individual is paid attention to, it must be ceased and taken full advantage of by the masses who were spared the fate of that one individual.
Indians of all ages and both genders have taken to the streets in anger at the Delhi gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student brutally assaulted at the hands of six men. Her insides were so damaged by the metal rods they had used on her that her intestines had to be removed; she was thrown off the bus after hours of assault, and they then tried to run her over. She died on December 28th of organ failure, after 12 days of struggling to overcome the injuries inflicted on her.
The protests have erupted all over India, and they are fueled with rightful frustration and fury and unrelenting determination after years of an unjust legal system that does not protect women from rape, nor punish rapists accordingly. The Indian government seems to be more concerned with controlling protesters rather than rapists. The protesters are tired of police forces that try to coerce them into marrying their own rapists, or negotiating over a financial settlement that the police believe will somehow heal the trauma that they’ve experienced. They are tired of going down to police stations to report crimes, only to be even further humiliated by perverted officers asking for unnecessary details of the account. Demands range from chemical castration to the death penalty; they want to put an end to rape culture altogether.
The Delhi gang rape itself and the protests that arose as a result have gained international attention, and have encouraged other men and women from different countries, cultures, and religions to discuss the various underlying causes and results of rape culture within each of their own societies. To clarify, rape culture is the term used to describe a culture where sexual violence and rape are so common within a society that its own members tolerate, excuse, or even condone such behavior. This includes victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape. The general consensus of the discussions and reflections that have surfaced is that rape culture literally plagues every country on earth, though the degrees and ways may differ.
There is soft and there is hard-core objectification: one “just” strips women of their essence and identity, and eroticizes the degradation of women on a superficial level. The other specifically uses sexual violence to target women, and to create a gender hierarchy where masculinity is associated with dominance, and rape is associated with power. Because of this status quo, there is a mass patriarchal deviation which not only pardons, but condones rapists’ behavior; at the same time, it seeks to punish rape victims for “pushing” the rapist’s “sexual boundaries” to the point where he “could not control himself”. Since this is used to justify his behavior, it suggests that the rapist is more beast than he is man, due to his animalistic instincts overcoming his human understanding of consent. It also suggests that the victim is to blame, and ought to deal with the social and legal consequences of ‘her act’.
This is not a foreign issue. We do not live in a region that is protected from the barbarity that is rape culture, which, I should note, is a global issue. Every female on earth is at risk of experiencing sexual violence at some point in her life, whether she lives in the United States, Kenya, India, France, England, Jordan, the UAE, or Kuwait. What all of these have in common, particularly Arab countries, is the need to shame and guilt rape victims. As members of collectivist societies, Arabs tend to say that the woman or girl has “brought shame upon her family” by being raped, implying that she has done something which led to it – that she does carry the blame for whatever violation she has experienced.
In 2012 alone, over 300 cases of rape were reported in Jordan. Two of those cases gained the media’s attention, as the rape victims were 14 and 15 years old. Though the details of the two individual cases vary, the result was one and the same: the perpetrator told the victim’s father that he would marry his daughter in order to “protect her reputation” and to avoid going to prison. In both cases, the fathers agreed and the girls were wed to their rapists, the rape-law in Jordan dictating that the husband is pardoned, but may not divorce the girl for at least five years. The girls were minors, who were now married to men who had raped them, and would most likely continue to rape them once they were married. This does not solve the issue, but only increases the level of trauma the child is going through by having to face the man who assaulted her every day for at least the next five years.
Not one single Arab country acknowledges rape within marriage, so even if one of the two underaged girls were to attempt reporting that crime, she would be dismissed. The chances of an underaged married girl going against her family’s wishes are, however, slim. In January of 2013, a 15-year-old girl was wed to a 90-year-old man with a fatal liver condition in Saudi Arabia. This was obviously not a marriage, because she was not old enough to be his wife, and he was not old enough to fulfill his role as a mature, adult husband would; he was dying, and had paid a dowry of $17,000 for this child he lusted after. In other words, this was socially and legally acceptable human trafficking. Though she attempted to run away, she was later returned to her husband by her own parents.
The Kingdom’s neighboring country, Kuwait, on the other hand, is a unique case. Of the rape cases that have gone public, nearly all of the victims were Asian females, mostly domestic workers raped by Kuwaiti men. In these cases, it is clear that the perpetrators not only took advantage of the physical vulnerability that comes with being female, but also the social and legal vulnerability of being a domestic worker in Kuwait, reemphasizing the truth of rape being associated with power. Though this does show that the perpetrators are obviously aware of the consequences they would experience if they were to rape a woman who is ‘equal’ to them, this does not mean that local women are spared. Rape culture does include sexual harassment, objectification, and victim-blaming, which are predominant factors in our society, all immediately intertwined.
Uncomfortable leering, inappropriate comments being thrown at women in malls and other public venues, groups stalking lone women, and other forms of sexual harassment have become sights that we have unfortunately grown accustomed to witnessing. The perpetrators justify their acts by blaming the harassed victim and saying that she was asking for it; “her clothing was short, tight, provocative”, “she laughed too loud”, “she looked at me, so I assumed she was signaling me over”, “she was out too late”, “the place she was at was shady, a proper woman wouldn’t have been there”.
Like India, police stations in Kuwait are not places that women can comfortably venture into in order to report cases of sexual harassment. The social stigma of police stations being an inappropriate place for a woman to go to alone restricts the chance of justice being achieved. The hassle of having to find a male relative to accompany the woman to the police station only to describe the details of her account to another male officer who will be less than sympathetic with how violated she feels cannot be coincidental. It prevents women from reporting sexual predators. Weeks before the Delhi gang rape, an 17 year old Indian girl committed suicide after attempting to report a gang rape. The all-male police officers pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers, trivializing how much courage it must’ve taken her to decide to report it in spite of the social stigma surrounding police stations and young women. One cannot help but think that if police stations were more justice-friendly for both men and women by hiring forces from both genders, our societies could be safer places for the citizens; more of the criminals would be behind bars and paying for their violations, and more of the victims would feel confident enough to approach the institution that is supposed to responsible for their protection.
Abolishing rape culture does not only depend on legal institutions, which is an integral part of the process, but also the people themselves. Both men and women must stop tolerating sexual harassment; women must step up and refuse to be degraded, and men must not be bystanders when witnessing such situations. It is only when the two genders cooperate as a team that they can live in a mutually-respectful society that understands and appreciates both of their boundaries. Victim blaming must stop; men must hold themselves at a higher level, and say that they have enough self-control to withhold any sexual impulses they might experience regardless of what a woman is wearing, or what time she’s out. Women must stop blaming each other. There is an unspoken sisterhood code that says you need to stand up for other women who have been violated. I recently heard one of my peers swearing at women who “bawl” at harsh labels given to them by society because they don’t meet the socially-dictated categories for an “appropriate woman”. Her argument was that the woman already knew she lived in a society that always blamed the women, and made up excuses for the men; she thus “deserved” whatever judgments came her way for being “inappropriate”.
For misogyny to reach a point where not only sexist men practice it, but also women against their own kind, is an alarming sign. It further promotes rape culture and sexual harassment, and comes up with excuses for it. This social cancer which justifies criminal acts cannot be halted if this kind of misogyny is not put to an end. To begin with, the women themselves need to refuse tolerating degradation and objectification. They will then be strong enough to refuse witnessing other women experiencing that kind of violation. At that point, the women will be able to join hands with the men who also refuse to be complicit members of that rape culture. This team of men and women will be aware of the dangers rape culture poses; they will understand that even if in a society such as Kuwait’s, the harassment ‘does not exceed’ being stalked, it can escalate over the years and justify larger acts of harassment. In order to protect our societies from turning into hell-on-earth, we must not shame victims, but rapists and those who condone such crimes. We must do this with the same amount of determination and perseverance that the young men and women of India are currently protesting with.