If I’m driving a car without seat-belts on and I get hit, am I to blame for my death? Even if it could be proven without a shadow of a doubt that I would not have died if I had had seat-belts on, the most people would accuse me of is stupidity or negligence. Hardly anyone, I think, would say that it was my fault that I died.
None of the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane would have died if they had not decided to take that precise flight. Presumably, most of them decided to do so on their own, without any kind of coercion. But can they be accused of suicide?
Both driving and flying increase the chances of injury/death (driving more so), and yet I have not heard a lot of people saying that people should just not drive or take flights if they want to be alive.
As I have said before somewhere, a woman getting mugged and killed is unlikely to be held responsible for her own death, no matter how avoidable.
Why, then, is rape different?
Perhaps we use a very different kind of causal metaphor when thinking about sexual assault. Perhaps the biological dimension makes it easier to associate it with self-inflicted harm? Certainly, if I were to drink my liver to cirrhosis, nobody would be to blame but myself (unless I were a minor). The same is true for all kinds of self-destructive behaviour. We may wonder about whether there was a “deeper” cause, but that would not absolve us of the responsibility.
But any self-destructive habit is chosen (however un-free the choice may be), which implies that one can choose differently and thus avoid the harm. We can choose to give up drink, choose not to smoke, choose not to eat junk, choose to work out regularly, choose to sleep well, choose to respect ourselves more, choose to let go, choose to control our temper, choose to be optimistic.
Certainly, victim-blamers (i.e. woman-haters) do think that a woman can choose not to get raped by dressing and behaving appropriately. Perhaps they are, in fact, thinking in biological terms.
Sadly, they are wrong. For the simple reason that there is absolutely NO evidence that “covering” yourself, not associating with many men, or not staying out late at night significantly reduces a woman’s chances of being raped. If that were the case, parts of the world where female behaviour is strictly monitored and regulated would experience far lower cases of sexual assault. But that is simply not the case. Let alone the fact that most of this “advice” does not apply to sexual assault by close relatives and others who have access to a woman’s house, which makes up the bulk of all cases (to my knowledge).
Besides, 6-year-old girls do not, for the most part, dress “immodestly” or hang out with a lot of guys late at night. But they do get raped.
While talking to a friend today I commented on how curiously we have historically treated female sexuality. Historical literature would suggest that we have always considered women to have an insatiable, voracious sexual appetite, perpetually trying to tempt some hapless man. And yet when talking about rape the roles seem to get reversed – we have all heard some version of “Sheep cannot complain of being eaten if they stick their heads into a lion’s mouth”. Which is it, then?
Any incident of violence that receives a lot of media attention brings with it a refrain that has become very common on social media – “Everybody cares about so and so, but nobody said a word about this and that”. Of course, one cannot deny that the police must have been spurred on by the immense media coverage the Banani rape case received, and that this is not true for most cases of sexual assault throughout the country. It is important to point out the pervasiveness of the problem, but expecting the general public to care about the thousands of cases where no one of wealth and status is involved will surely lead to disappointment. And yet, we have to try. Sexual assault within the household receives, in comparison, almost no attention, despite being a veritable epidemic.
It is often the brutality of such cases that draws our attention. If asked to imagine a victim of sexual assault, we immediately form a picture of a physically battered woman (yes I know that men get raped too; there is no need to remind me). But in some cases obvious signs of physical harm are missing. This can happen if the woman is incapacitated in some way or decides not to put up a fight at all. I have heard first-hand accounts of both. In fact, it seems that many self-defense instructors actually recommend not putting up a fight if there is absolutely no way to escape. Regardless of whether this actually helps, it should at least tell us something – rape is rape, with or without a beating.
Are there false accusations sometimes? Yes. But here I have to make two points.
First – such “false” cases when they appear are so trumped up by the media that they appear to be more common than they actually are. They are, in reality, a truly small minority.
Second – given the complete social ostracization that rape victims go through here, even at the hands of their “loved ones”, the chances of anyone choosing that life just to win some cash are very, very low, though existent.
Finally, let us not treat these as monstrous aberrations. Rape is an extreme expression of what is taken to be “normal” gender relations by most of us, most of the time. Castrate rapists all you want – if we allow men to take advantage of women everyday in a thousand different ways, subtle or brazen, it becomes very difficult to stop a few of these men from taking what they know to be normal and right to extreme conclusions. The fight against rape is also the fight for gender equality. If we do not want our sons to become rapists, we cannot bring them up to be patriarchs.