Take the shame out of rape
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To this end, our society must demolish the myths associated with rape. First, women do not incite rape by the way they talk, behave, and dress, or by going out alone or late at night. Rape happens because of a predatory mind-set, and is the responsibility of the rapist and of the society that allows such a breakdown of law and order, not of the victim. Second, it is not a woman's fault if she does not know how to tackle her assaulter: there is no "correct" way to respond to a rape situation. Each rapist is different. Third, rape is not just unwanted sex. Rape is an act of violence done to demean, dominate and oppress the victim. Therefore, a rape victim does not bring dishonour to her family. A family's honour is only diminished when they internalise power structures defined by the rapists, and further demean or oppress the rape victim. Forcing her into secrecy, undermining her by not believing her story, or dismissing her for being "damaged" are all acts of injustice.
It is encouraging, then, that the nation prays for the survival of the 23-year-old gangraped woman in Delhi, and does not consider her existence as that of a zinda laash. A good, full and satisfying life after rape is not only possible, it is a woman's right. So rape survivors must be supported not only to fully integrate into society but also to tell their story without fear of ostracism or stigmatisation. A victim's silence not only emboldens rapists but also perpetuates the patriarchal notion that a woman's izzat once looted can never be restored, that her dignity once violated can never be wrested back.
Despite demoralising messages from many fronts, including the advertising and entertainment industry, every Indian woman must know that she is complete in and of herself, so that her worth is defined neither by her equations with men nor by her virginity, youth, beauty, marital status, fertility or sexual prowess. A woman is not a vehicle for producing children. She is an individual with the right to determine if/when she wants to marry, or if/when she wants to reproduce. A woman is not incomplete without a man or a child. Equally, a woman is not an object for male consumption, a commodity in the marriage or sex bazaar. That is why her advancement must not be achieved by bartering her body or short-changing her emotions, ideals or talents for the sake of marriage, or by using sex as the currency for approval from men in the workplace or social space.
A woman's worth stems from her inner self. Therefore, what matters most is not what others think of her, but what she thinks of her own self, how much she loves and respects her own self. That's why it's unfair to exhort women, especially rape survivors, to "ignore and let go", or to "go along to get along", or to please people with silence or obedience. A woman deserves justice not for the sake of others but for her own self. That is also why it's just as counterproductive to impose radical notions of sexual freedom upon women and brainwash them into Faustian bargains with men that offer superficial success but leave them emotionally and/or physically depleted, dehumanised and dysfunctional. When a woman's progress depends on her ability to exploit and/or be exploited by men, neither women's equality nor justice is served.
Self-growth and self-confidence will teach Indian women that those who do not respect them do not deserve their respect. So they will learn not only to talk and talk back but also to insist upon relationships with men that are mutually respectful and trusting. Then, the power of rape will be diminished without minimising the gravity of the physical and emotional trauma suffered by victims. Rape survivors deserve respect, support and understanding, not blame, shame, hostility or negative attention.
Patel is a Mumbai-based writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
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