There has been far too much stupidity spewed by a motley assortment of politicians, lawyers, and even a guru (because gurus have the answer to everything and are totally connected to the realities of daily life, right?). So I am going to say what needs to be said about rape, violence towards women, and the things that contribute to it, and I am not going to sugar-coat a single word.
Before I go any further, allow me to warn you that this post is going to be graphic. If you’re a survivor of sexual assault or you don’t like reading about violence and rape, you may not want to read this.
The words in that sentence are horrifying enough, but they don’t convey the full horror of what actually happened. Nor do they take into account something even uglier than rape itself: the appalling, sexist and brutal responses and attitudes to this particular rape that have slunk to the surface.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here: let me explain to you what being raped is like. Not even a violent rape; I’m talking about rape by a partner in the context of an abusive relationship. Which, by the way, is something that happens far more often than you might think.
First, there’s the panic, of course. When you realize that this is happening, and you have zero control, you have no way of preventing this unless you want to get beaten into a bloody pulp, because you have been hit and strangled by your partner/rapist in public before, and you have no idea what he’ll do to you behind closed doors when he’s angry. Then there’s revulsion. You want to shudder at every touch, but you’re terrified that he’ll notice and be angry, so you force yourself, at the very least, to lie inert. That, at least, does not make him angry. Then survival instinct kicks in. Your brain tries to protect you, and you go into a sort of distant fugue; you think: “This isn’t happening to me, this is happening to someone else.”
But you can’t ignore the physical sensation of being violated, of having this awful, foreign and unwelcome invasion in your body, which you have no control over. You can’t ignore the smell of your rapist/partner’s sweat, the scent of the food he had for dinner still on his breath, that spot of peeling paint on the ceiling, you can’t ignore the paralysing fear, the knowledge that if you protest, if you say no, that supposedly talismanic word that fails to keep women safe, your partner/rapist will be angry, and you’re more terrified of him angry and violent than the rape itself, so you keep quiet and wait for him to be finished. He is not violent during the rape – a small mercy – and you have to fight your instinct to scream, to cry out, to run away. Because the instinct for self-preservation somehow manages to override your instinct to fight back. Afterwards, it doesn’t seem like you’re the one crying; it seems like another girl, wearing your skin, whose just had to share her body unwillingly with her rapist/partner.
You weren’t wearing a mini-skirt, you didn’t invite his advances, and you didn’t ‘ask for it’. You simply sat there in a t-shirt and jeans and ate your dinner in front of the TV in silence – not exactly the behaviour of someone inviting sexual advances. The last ten minutes of terror and sweat were not about your body, they were about power. No-one understands this better than you, because you feel insignificant, weak, and absolutely filthy. You feel like you’re never going to get clean again, and you want to crawl into a dark corner and hide for about a billion years. You feel utterly powerless: you feel like you never existed, and you you will never exist again.
And then it happens again, and again, until you’re trapped in something that feels like a terrible dream, and one day you wake up and realize that you have choked on fear long enough, and if you die being pursued and beaten by your partner/rapist after you’ve left him, at least you will go down fighting. At least you will be able to say, at the very end, I didn’t give in to fear. At least I’m going to go down as a person, not a cowering shadow.
The policeman who takes your statement is professional. His fingers fly over the keyboard, tapping out your private horrors with calm efficiency. He assures you that the rapist/ex-partner will be prosecuted if he even talks to you again, that the police are going to be paying him a visit. He asks if you want to press charges; he has a kind face and refrains from mentioning words like “assault” and “rape”. You decline to press charges: you just want to feel safe. As long as the ex-partner/rapist can’t hurt you again, you don’t care about settlements and justice. You want to forget that all of this ever happened, not parade your naked fear in front of strangers in a courtroom. You don’t care about settlement money: no amount of money in the world could ever purchase what was stolen by your rapist/ex-partner.
This isn’t fiction. This happened to me when I was about the same age as the student from Delhi; it occurred over the span of six months, until I grew so desperate that my fear of being a beaten shadow outweighed my fear of simply being beaten. What I have written about is simply a fraction of the terror, humiliation and psychological damage caused by rape – and I was one of the relatively more fortunate survivors in the sense that I was not assaulted while I was raped.
I value my privacy; writing this, coming out and saying yes, this happened to me, was not an easy decision. I want everyone to understand that this is something that should not be happening to any human being, ever. And I do not want sympathy, I want change.
You need to understand exactly how awful a crime this is, because rape figures everywhere are far higher than you think. Because there are many more rape and sexual assault victims than any of us realize. Because rape and violence don’t just happen to women in remote villages or in countries with high rates of reported rape. It happens everywhere. Every day.
This is a mind-boggling sampler of the kind of victim-blaming stupidity that ensures that rape will continue, every day, every hour, in every country in the world, for a long time.
Fall on my knees and plead in the name of God, says a pathetic excuse for a human being that dares to masquerade as a guru.
My rapist considered himself a good Christian and went to church regularly. I don’t think falling on my knees and calling on God’s name would have helped, somehow. In fact, begging for him to stop simply made him angrier and resulted in more abuse. I learned quickly.
Fast food like chow mein causes rape, you say, Jitendar Chattar?
That’s odd. My rapist didn’t eat much fast food at all. Didn’t seem to make a difference, though.
Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar says that “Harm can come on a person if the stars are in adverse positions … We have no answer to this, only an astrologer can predict.”
So, was it Mercury in retrograde that was responsible for my rapist’s actions, or was it the fact that he wanted to prove he had power over me?
Abu Asim Azmi, state president of the Maharashtra Samajwadi Party says: “If you keep petrol and fire together then it will burn. There should be a law to ensure that there should be no ‘nangapan’ (nudity). Those who wear less clothes should also be banned.”
I was wearing a sleeved t-shirt and jeans when it happened. Several times. How did nudity contribute to my rape, exactly?
MP Rajpal Saini wonders: “Why do housewives and school going girls need mobiles? It encourages them to make futile small talk and get connected with people outside their homes.”
My rapist didn’t need a mobile to “connect” with me, because he knew where I lived. And also where I studied.
Of course, our own Minister for Law had to jump on the bandwagon with this:
Using this woman’s rape and death to make a case for the death penalty is bad enough. But is the Minister for Law aware of the fact that the vast majority of rapes in Singapore are carried out by people known to the victims, and not by strangers lurking in the shadows at 3 in the morning? How is it that the death penalty doesn’t seem to deter the rapists who DO rape women in Singapore? I mean, my rapist seemed pretty sure he wouldn’t see the gallows, because he raped me not once, but several times. And how exactly is society protecting victims of marital rape? Do elaborate. Because the marital rape exemption in the Penal Code is still in effect.
The list goes on. But that’s quite enough stupidity for now. Blaming rape and violence towards women on Western culture/ fast food/ purported nakedness are all attitudes that lead back to the same tired assumption: it’s the victim’s fault. Had she not been out so late/ in the dangerous part of town/ wearing more clothes, she wouldn’t have been raped.
The truth is painfully clear: rape is the fault of the rapist. There is no excuse for damaging another human being with something as horrific as rape. Anyone who tells you otherwise is perpetuating a dangerous lie. As as long as people continue to believe this lie, nothing is going to change. Rape is about power. It transcends cultural values and norms, because the need to assert power transcends cultural values and norms.
Slut-shaming and victim-blaming need to stop. These attitudes simply encourage misogynistic views that lead to nastier, tangible things like rape, sexual assault and physical abuse. Misogynistic pages are tolerated until massive public pressure builds up: what message does that send out?
There’s the “she deserved it” line – a very tired lie/ line that I’ll be glad to see the end of.
How does someone “deserve” the horror that is rape – often coupled with violence? How does a wife “deserve” to beaten by her husband? How does a man “deserve” to be hit by his wife or partner? There is no justification for violence towards partners – of any gender. EVER. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply not human, because there is nothing human about the abuse or rape of another human being, let alone a partner. Don’t feel shy about letting them know this.
Ending rape and violence towards women starts with education. It starts with attitudes. If a boy, from the time he is a child, learns that jokes about violence towards women are okay, that there’s nothing wrong with scenes in movies where women are beaten and still run back with devotion to the same man who beat them, that hitting women is a norm and not a crime, then you have a problem. And it needs to be fixed.
Men, please don’t tolerate misogynistic jokes. Or pages like this which turn the very real and ugly violence towards women into a source of sick humour. Don’t contribute to seemingly harmless jokes about violence towards women. The women of the world need you to stand up and show that you’re human, like them. Show the weak what it’s like to be strong by being kind, not by spreading hate and encouraging violence towards those who have done you no wrong. Show your sons what it is to be a good, kind man by educating them, by telling them what a human with a conscience does and does not do. Lead by example.
Most rape cases (96.5% in 2009, according to Singapore’s 2011 CEDAW report) involve a perpetrator known to the victim. Husbands, boyfriends, dates, acquaintances . . . 96.5%. There is nothing that can restore what is stolen from a human being by rape, so stop and ask yourself if you really want to do this to a woman that you know and perhaps even care for. A girl being too drunk to say no isn’t an invitation to intercourse. If a girl is too drunk or afraid to say no, that’s rape. And it will eat away not just at her, but at you, for the rest of your life. Once you’ve crossed that line, there is no going back, and that’s two people damaged irreparably forever.
Women, you don’t have to keep silent. I did, for far too long. But I refuse to remain silent any more. And you don’t have to, either.
Make it clear that you will not tolerate misogynistic jokes and attitudes, whether it’s in your workplace or otherwise. If you know or suspect a friend or relative is in an abusive relationship, SPEAK UP. Women in abusive relationships don’t stay because they enjoy being abused; they stay because they are terrified of being beaten to death, literally, if they leave or tell someone about it.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, leave. Contrary to what you’ve been told, he will not find you and hurt you. There are safe places where you can heal, where your abuser can’t reach you. There is a way out.
If you’re a survivor of rape or violence, I just want to say: I understand. I was there, and I am with you, and you are not alone. You may not feel that you’re ever going to be whole or happy again, but you will be. AWARE has a list of organizations that can help here. I would recommend getting in touch with a counsellor or psychologist who is trained to help as the first step towards recovery, but if you want to talk about it with someone who understands what you’ve been through, I’m glad to listen.
I can only hope that rape becomes a rare crime and not a global endemic in my lifetime, but it needs more than wishes and hope to achieve this: it needs action and change. Please be a part of the change, and not a silent witness to the problem.
Just after I finished writing this post, before I could summon the courage to click “Publish”, this popped up on my newsfeed: the student from Delhi is not a nameless statistic.
Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey and her father wants the world to know: “I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”