WHAT THIS TRAGIC GANG RAPE REALLY REVEALS ABOUT INDIA
It is certainly true this brutal gang rape tells us something about India’s attitude to women, something which urgently needs to change. But what seems to be galvanising the population to demonstrate and protest is the sheer brutal violence of the act, but this possibly reveals more about the cruel nature of gang rape, an issue which could be getting lost in the passion evoked by this terrible crime.
Louise Morgan, Bernadette Brittain and Jan Welch, researchers based at Kings College Hospital London have recently conducted one of the few in-depth studies into gang rape, investigating how it differs from individual rape.
‘Multiple Perpetrator Rape’ usually has a different motivation from that of single perpetrator rape, they point out in their study, entitled, ‘Multiple Perpetrator Sexual Assault : How Does It Differ From Assault by a Single Perpetrator?’ and these crucial psychological differences explain why gang rape sometimes tends to be even more vicious.
Group assaults are about developing the identity of young men, the authors of this new study point out, just published in the ‘Journal of Interpersonal Violence’. In a gang they feel more anonymous even in the presence of witnesses, plus there is a diffusion of individual responsibility, combined with peer pressure, mixed in with a toxic need to impress the peer group with virility and toughness. Such men demonstrate their shared dominance through public humiliation of women, and the sexual element becomes a way of establishing competition. All these effects explain, but don’t excuse, why gang rapes are frequently extremely sadistic, often more fierce than individual rape – which is itself often an extremely violent crime.
This means that there needs to be tougher legal sanctions and a police focus on the gang element of this case, as there is some evidence it is more difficult to secure convictions in gang rapes.
Karuna Chibber from the University of California lead a team of researchers who questioned almost thousand Indian women attending a gynaecology clinic in Mysore, discovering an astonishing 36% had experienced sexual violence in the past year – 50% had experienced physical assault. The study entitled ‘Examining the Determinants of Sexual Violence Among Young, Married Women in Southern India’ and recently published in the ‘Journal of Interpersonal Violence’ found women whose husbands had primary education were at elevated risk of sexual violence compared to uneducated husbands.
The authors speculate that appreciation of how more educated men should behave in public, in a more controlled manner, tempers such men against physically abusing their wives. However, entitlement over his wife’s body likely remains a man’s marital privilege, the authors contend, a common view amongst Indian men, and may be even more pronounced among educated men, being the last remaining domain where they control their wives?
The study also found that if women made some contribution to household income, their risk of experiencing violence went up significantly, compared to where they made no contribution. The authors of the study argue that when women begin to earn and contribute to the household income, they acquire more independence and rights awareness and may, therefore, challenge traditional gender stereotypes and rules. Anxious to maintain their authority, husbands seem to respond with increased violence. But the study also found that over time, however, when women’s contributions become substantial, men appear to begin to recognize the value of their wife’s contribution, accept new gender roles, and are less likely to respond with physical or sexual control.
The study also found risk of violence to women was particularly associated with the husband pursuing a certain profession – that of being a driver. Evidence from India and other countries, the authors of the study explain, has demonstrated that male occupations associated with mobility (automobile drivers) are heavily linked with risky problematic behaviour, including multiple sex partners, rape, crime, and substance abuse.
This last finding is particularly intriguing given the driver of the bus where the rape occurred is reportedly being held by the police. This research suggests occupational drivers should be a source of concern for India, if it’s truly interested in getting serious about violence against women, as well as a whole host of other anti-social behaviour.
But perhaps most worrying about this latest academic research is the finding that as women start to make an economic contribution to the household, or as their husbands begin to get educated, sexual and physical violence seems to increase against women. This predicts that as India gets more developed, there will be a period when we should expect sexual and physical violence against women to actually worsen, as male dominance feels even more threatened and retaliates.
The gang rape on a bus may be a crime which captures a key moment in India’s development – it reminds us that in the stampede to economic betterment, the rights of the less powerful are in danger of being trampled.