Rape became a capital offense in India after the 2012 gang-rape of a student in Delhi, yet India recently added another two high-profile cases of sexual violence to its infamous record. The rape of a recovering15-year-old rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Hospital by a security guard demonstrates the lack of security Indian women face. Meanwhile, the refusal of onlookers in Bengaluru to help a 21-year-old Tanzanian woman, who was pulled from her car, stripped naked, and sexual assaulted, as she ran through the streets in search of safety reveals how cultures that disenfranchise others make the abuse and rape of individuals acceptable throughout the world.
Where much of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America still need to make violence against women a far greater priority, India has only begun to tackle the issues that North America and Europe continue to struggle with after decades of progress. Unfortunately, groups like the “Return of Kings” and their push to decriminalize rape on private property to allegedly fight rape by perversely encouraging woman to consider their actions resonates in many corners of the world. Consequently, the effort to combat rape starts with understanding the mentality of those who commit acts of sexual violence and those who protect them from the consequences of their actions.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence may cause the greatest harm to the victims and outrage people the most, but they only represent brutal cases of abuse that result from the disenfranchisement of the powerless. Just as the targeting of the Tanzanian woman was fueled by racism, the 2014 gang-rape and murder of two lower-caste Dalit teens in Uttar Pradesh demonstrates how the failure of government to punish higher-caste members encourages assault. Coupled with the lack of legal consequences and the refusal of police to protect certain people, a culture that regards others as inferior and embraces the mistreatment of these supposedly inferior people is one that encourages abuse.
Someone, who is seen as inferior and treated as such by a community, is being dehumanized and objectified. When someone is raped, sexually assaulted, or even used for sex, that person is being treated as nothing more than a living object. Where sex is simply an act of pleasure to some, most individuals view it as a personal and emotional experience that defines part of their individual identity. Being objectified can destroy someone’s sense of identity, personal security, and self-worth for this very reason. As such, the harm of sexual violent stems from the victims' loss of security and confidence in society's ability to shield them from those who harmed them.
Sexual assaults are not simply about the physical act of sex. To the contrary, these crimes steal the ability of victims to make intimate choices while violating the victims' sense of security in one of the most personal aspects of their lives. This is why even a prostitute, who sells sex as a commodity, can be psychologically damaged by rape. Sexual assault at the hands of a trusted figure, such as a loved-one, security guard, or commanding officer, within the confines of a “safe place,” such as one’s home, neighborhood, or a hospital can, therefore, be extremely traumatizing.
Furthermore, a husband can rape his wife, and vice versa, if the spouse is forced to engage in a sexual against her, or his, will. Although this notion has gained traction in the West, the idea that a married woman has a choice when it comes to sex is not universally accepted. For traditionalists who believe a married woman should feel obliged to satisfy her husband’s sexual whims, marriage is a means of legitimizing the mistreatment of women as living objects. In a similar fashion, sexual predators are simply satisfying their impulses to rape by capitalizing on culturally accepted abuse of disenfranchised individuals when it comes to women, minorities, and members of “inferior” castes.
Because it is culturally acceptable to abuse “inferior” individuals, who can be treated as any inanimate object would be treated, communities fail to hold rapists and other perpetuates of sexual assault accountable for their actions. Beyond India, millions upon millions of people are harmed by human trafficking, the sex industry, and those who treat others as sexual objects based on any given justification. To combat the legitimization of rape, public officials and community leaders must confront rape as a serious crime that devastates victims, families, and communities while treating sexual assault as sexual assault without regard to who was involved in the crime. Instead of focusing on the reason for an act of sexual violence, communities need to focus on the harm of the crime.
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