By Avilasha Ghosh:
On January 17, 2015, a 23-year-old woman was raped by a 20-year-old Stanford University student named Brock Turner while she was unconscious after a house party. She was raped behind a dumpster and the only memory she had of the sexual assault was when she woke up the next morning in the hospital covered in dried blood and multiple wounds.
The issue gained widespread public attention because of the leniency of punishment that was given to Turner by the Santa Clara County Court despite the egregious nature of the crime he had committed. To Judge Aaron Persky, despite Brock pleading guilty and being charged with three felonies, six months of imprisonment in addition to probation was punishment enough as otherwise, his career as an athlete would be seriously affected.
Emily (as Brock called her in the courtroom) has published an open letter online addressing her attacker on June 4, 2016, where she has put in details of her experience of the assault and what she found wrong about Brock’s statement of defence at court. While this letter has become popularly shared by social media users who empathise with her, there is also a circulation of Brock’s father’s controversial statement in which he had said that “20 minutes of action” should not cost his son a harsh punishment of six months imprisonment in jail. Further, since Turner also happens to be a star swimmer, most newspapers repeatedly emphasised on his athletic excellence, as if mentioning it reduced the atrocity of the crime he had committed.
After reading Emily’s letter (I find it to be a very brave effort on her part), I opine that rather than addressing her as a ‘Rape Victim’, we should call her a ‘Rape Survivor’. Although what happened to her that night was downright awful, she managed to survive the assault, make her voice heard and seek justice.
I wonder who the Court and public would blame if a similar incident happened in India. I think we have a good idea about it already after the infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ gang-rape case that happened in Delhi in 2012. Popular opinion on this issue blamed the girl for first, going out on a late night movie show with her boyfriend/male friend, second she was wearing “western” clothes which were apparently provocative and third, she was outside of her house late in the night with a man. Although controversial, victim blaming is recurrent in India which strongly relies on patriarchal norms with regard to a woman’s access to public space, her clothing and her association with members of the opposite sex.
In 2012, when some men raped a 42-year-old Anglo-Indian woman inside a car late night at Park Street, Kolkata, people did not question the act of penetration without her consent. She was labelled as a “bad woman” who is to be blamed for what happened to her simply because she visited a nightclub and was friendly with a bunch of men she was not previously acquainted to. Although the three convicts were sentenced to ten years of imprisonment, the social stigma and public shaming against the survivor, Suzette Jordan, continued. Such deviant acts keep happening time and again but there’s no saying that it is normal because it simply is not. Rape is a serious crime and it cannot be justified on any grounds. As Emily pointed out in her letter, rape is not a matter of promiscuity; it is a question of consent.
In India, given how popular opinion always finds a way to shift blame from the assaulter to the assaulted, Emily would have been subject to public shaming and societal exclusion. How could she go out of her house late at night? How could she get drunk at a party with unknown people? Why did she say yes to dance with a man she did not know? Instead of questioning the perpetrator as to why he thought it was okay to drag an unconscious girl behind a dumpster and penetrate her without her verbal consent and taking advantage of her loss of memory to justify his actions during trial, the girl would have been questioned on grounds of her sexual morality and unrestrained freedom.
I am writing this piece today because I think any form of rape happening anywhere to anyone is not okay. Physically and mentally harming someone simply because she was friendly and was out late at night is not okay. Exploiting her sexually when she was unconscious and then running away leaving her naked and injured behind a dumpster is not okay (no matter how drunk you are!). Rape can happen to anyone, anywhere but that does not mean that we need to quietly accept it as our fate and let the criminal get away with it.
We need a change of attitude towards how people look at the act of rape and the rape survivor. The idea that a woman’s life is over after she has been raped is downright sexist because it means that a girl’s self-worth is measured solely in terms of her sexuality. Why should she be ashamed of herself when she has not committed the crime? Why should she be stripped of her pride and honour because she has been ‘polluted’ by an unknown man? Instead of dehumanising her and treating her like a worthless being, I feel that she should be patted on the back for being strong and brave enough to have survived such a traumatising situation. Rather than secluding her to one corner, she should be encouraged to pull herself together and rebuild herself. After all, wearing western clothes, having male friends and going out late at night is not a crime but rape is.