Are the victims of rape in India ‘asking for it?’
The outcry over the brutal gang rape on a bus which led to the death of a 23 year old woman last month, has now been met with a backlash, some are saying that modern women in India by adopting provocative Western culture, are encouraging rape.
The widespread tendency around the world to blame the victim, contributes to the reluctance of many women to come forward and report the crime, and also partly explains the attrition rate even if it comes to the attention of the criminal justice system, filtering down to one of the lowest conviction rates, of just 7.2% in the UK.
The latest study of the subject, entitled, ‘Attribution of blame in rape cases: A review of the impact of rape myth acceptance, gender role conformity and substance use on victim blaming’ published by Amy Grubb and Emily Turner from Coventry University, has recently been published in the academic journal ‘Aggression and Violent Behavior’.
The authors report that according to the official statistics, approximately 4.2% of women in the UK have been raped at least once since the age of 16 and that 19.5% of all women have suffered some form of sexual victimization since the same age. But rape and sexual assault are some of the most under-reported crimes within the UK (it’s almost certainly much worse in India) because of the stigma attached to the victims, and the way the crime has been traditionally understood. So these figures for how common rape is, are probably a huge under-estimate of the true prevalence of this crime, even more so in India.
The best estimate is that roughly one in four to one in six women in the UK will be raped at some time in their lives.
‘Rape Myths’ appear to be flushed out more in the open in India now as a part of the backlash following the gang rape outcry. Grubb and Turner report that rape myths commonly include blaming the victim for their rape, expressing a disbelief in claims of rape, exonerate the perpetrator and allude that only certain types of women are raped. The ‘rape myths’ we see being expressed in India now are not just a matter of dispute about the aftermath – they are crucial to explaining why the crime occurs in the first place.
Grubb and Turner report that high rape myth acceptance in men is associated with a higher likelihood of being a perpetrator of rape.
Given that in India there are millions who endorse traditional attitudes about women’s places in society, probably more so than in the UK, it’s worrying that Grubb and Turner have also found these ‘traditionalists’ are more likely to blame rape on the female. This happens for men and women, indicating that conservative traditional values about women and their role within society is a key determining factor for attributing blame in cases of rape. But such gender role stereotyping has also been linked to propensity for sexual coercion and an appetite for rape in men.
Why does some of the research find that women, particularly those that are more ‘traditional’ in outlook, endorse ‘rape myths’ as much as men? Grubb and Turner explain that women are likely to feel more personally similar to the victim of a rape, than men are, and are therefore forced to confront the unpalatable possibility that they too could suffer similarly. The more blameless the victim appears, then the more any woman hearing of such an incident, has to contemplate the awful reality that they too are at risk. One way of defending against this, psychologically, is to endorse rape myths, so asserting the belief that the victim is “different” to them.
Sanjoy Bhattacharyya, Shyama Saha and Ranjan Pal from North Bengal Medical College, Darjeeling, have recently published a study entitled ‘Rape among women and girls presenting at a gynecological emergency department’ where they found 71% were aged under 18 years. The authors of the study, published in the academic journal International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, report the superstition that intercourse with prepubescent girls cures sexually transmitted diseases, traditionally known as the “virgin cure”, is common in India.
This myth, the authors contend, may be responsible for the shockingly high prevalence of rape among girls aged under 18 years in India.