With the news of the Delhi gang rape of a medical student splashed across local and international news websites for a few weeks now, I wanted to tickle my curiosity a little more and so I ran a web search with the keyword ‘rape’ on Google (trust me, this was not even google.co.in but google.com) and all the links that appeared on Google’s first search-results page screamed ‘India Gang Rape’. As I hit the scroll bar and checked all the links on pages two and three, I came across links to rape incidents and crimes in Scotland, Ireland, Nigeria, South Africa, India, UK, and finally to the small mention of the recent Ohio rape case on a little-known Australian website. Finally, the news links all directed to the latest news emerging in the Indian rape case. Do you think there is something missing here? In the media-frenzy and hype surrounding the political, moral, and cultural degradation in India and other countries such as Pakistan; we have forgotten that the United States (a developed nation and a super-power that considers itself invincible) shares with India the proclivity for breeding a culture of misogyny, sexism, and rape.
In fact, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted in 2010, nearly one in five women are estimated to have been victims of heinous rape; defined as attempted or unwanted complete sexual penetration. In 91.9 percent of the cases, the offender was someone the victim was familiar with; statistics also show that in 2010, an estimated 1.27 million American women were raped (a shocking figure), equivalent to one woman every 29 seconds. While the statistics and survey results have been debated widely, one cannot ignore the fact that gender violence and barbarity exist even in the United States. Across the US, sex trafficking and domestic violence remain a problem. In 2011 alone, India, a country whose population is many times greater than that of the United States, reported 12 times fewer rapes.
Why does Google ignore rape in the US? Why do news organizations on foreign shores remain oblivious to the brutality of the high-school footballers who raped a 16-year-old unconscious girl in distant Steubenville, Ohio? The US has a rape problem and one reason why we do not hear much about rape victims in the US is because Americans refuse to admit that there is a serious problem. While the American media has continued to highlight the sexist culture that prevails in India, they have forgotten to make very obvious references to rape cases in their own country. Why, you ask? The simple reason for this is that Americans simply choose to ignore the issue. Why even members of the Congress failed to renew the Violence against women Act which was a landmark law that was passed in 1994 and that has now expired! Not only did they fail to renew the Act, but also they put on hold, the International Violence against women Act. It’s quite possible that members of the Congress cannot take a brave stand on sexual violence.
Rape will not be a ‘big deal’ in a country where a Republican congressional candidate in Washington says that the ‘rape thing’ is not a suitable reason for a woman to have an abortion. When he makes statements such as “On the rape thing, its like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime — how does that make it better? You know what I mean?” he is trivializing a grave issue. He is not the only male politician to dismiss rape as a casual matter. Joining him, to add fuel to the controversies and to the ire of women world over, is a politician who claimed that rape is a ‘gift from God’ and another, a Wisconsin state representative Roger Rivard who said that “some girls rape easy”. How will rape victims speak up when an entire county and close-knit community of football player-idolizing folks support the football team’s leading stars who have been charged with rape?
Rape in the US is such a trivial issue, isn’t it? It is such an insignificant crime that teenagers who partied through the summer night, members of the football team, and the offenders (Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond) both heroes to the local community of football-crazy people, found it worthy of being publicized through Twitter posts, photographs, and videos. While the girl (who was drunk and could not resist) was sexually assaulted and even raped, onlookers watched, photographed, and even participated in the gruesome act. Even while the football team was entangled in the controversy, the judge handling the case recused himself stating “it’s a very small community, everybody knows everybody”. Even the team’s football coach stood by his players, saying “the players who posted the online photographs of the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong”.
In a country where people can turn a blind eye to violence against women because their glory and the county’s popularity depend on their star football team, rape deserves to be ignored. In a nation that is proud of its achievements, and where people opine that after the rape, ‘the boys have to live with it for the rest of their lives’; rape should not be spoken about.
Another possible reason why rape is often ignored in the US is because it is very difficult to define it. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network or RAINN, the U.S.’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, the words ‘sexual assault’, ‘rape’, and ‘sexual abuse’ are used differently in different states and they can also mean different things. There are different laws applicable in different states, making it even more tedious to prosecute offenders. In most states of the US, the age of consent is 16 or 18. In some states, the age of consent varies according to the age difference between the participants. Different states have different parameters for defining the mental and legal capacity to consent to sexual intercourse. There are many categories and definitions that vary widely from state to state. So possibly, it is very hard for Americans to define rape. Don’t you agree?
Hopefully, the anti-rape protests and widespread awakening of human consciousness should do something to curb the rampant violence inflicted on women in America. It is time that America woke up to face the reality and stopped pointing fingers at others. It is high time the US public and lawmakers educate themselves on sexual violence and ended ‘rape illiteracy’ in the nation. It is time for the US to stop rape and even more important – recognize rape as a deeply-rooted problem.