Dr Asha Mirje has never been raped. Only a woman who has never suffered a rape would dare to opine about the ‘reasons’ why women are ambushed. I am glad for the survival of her dignity. What has not survived is her sense of decency and common sense. Dr Asha Mirje is a member of India’s women’s rights commission. Any public remarks made by her regarding the status of women should be carefully considered. Do her words reflect the official stance regarding women in India? Let us review some of her speculative musings about a crime that deeply impacts women. What impacts women, affects society.
Dr Mirje’s opinion about the gang rape, sexual torture and death of a student who was accompanied by her boyfriend on a bus ride home: “Did Nirbhaya really have go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend?”
Dr Mirje’s opinion about the rape of a photojournalist on assignment: “Rapes take place also because of a woman’s clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places.”
Does the aforementioned apply to the 51-year-old Danish tourist in Delhi who stopped to ask directions back to her hotel? Her simple request resulted in a gang rape. Surely, there must have been something in her ‘clothing’, her ‘behaviour’ and her ‘presence’ that caused her to get what she deserved. Dr Asha Mirje has never been raped. Little girls who are raped do not talk about it; they lack the vocabulary to tell others what happened to them. Women who are raped by relatives will not speak of the act. Incestuous acts of rape do tremendous psychological damage to the emotional wiring but they also harm family dynamics. Women fiercely guard what is important. Family is important.
Ambush. Rape is an act of ambush. Women are raped when they least suspect it. The ambush starts when ladies are bent over a sink of dishes, taking a nap on their own bed, or strapping a baby into a car seat. It does not happen because they are walking about town wearing a big sign that states ‘Please assault me. I deserve it’.
A common baiting remark comes into my e-mail from Pakistani men. It is directed against the US with the use of statistics of violence against women. I always note that the reason the statistics can be used as bait is because our department of justice actually gives a damn about women. They crunch the numbers. However, some nations do not actively pursue, analyse and archive these statistics for public view. These nations do not initiate policies that provide protection for women.
Perhaps browsing through the site map below will put things in perspective. I suggest you start with three maps: 1) Women’s physical safety, 2) Prevalence of rape and 3) Strength of barriers to reporting rape. If you have the stomach for it, view the map. How about the prevalence of female genital cutting?
If you are colour blind, the maps will not mean a lot to you but do focus on the areas with the red colour (http://womanstats.org/newmapspage.html).
Dr Ashe Mirje has never suffered rape but it is possible someone close to her has been raped.
How can sexual assault be minimised within a society? It begins with a concerted effort to provide women with rape prevention training and a basic understanding of the means of self-defence. When I was serving in the military, I spent a day with other women in a rape prevention course. It was hosted by two men, members of the military police. The morning was spent in the classroom — with education. We learned that a woman has a maximum of 90 seconds from the time of the ambush with intent to rape to free herself from harm. We watched the officers demonstrate basic self-defence manoeuvres. In the afternoon, I found myself kneeling on a mat with one officer kneeling behind me. On his command, “I am going for my zipper,” I found myself using my new found skills to try to prevent an assault. I had been taught to flip the assailant with a move used by professional wrestlers. After I flipped him, the next woman took her place on the mat. Embarrassing? Yes but it was only one of several techniques, which each of the women had to practice and demonstrate to show proficiency. Was it taught and demonstrated in a professional manner? Yes. The men were dead serious about what they were teaching us. Both of them were married. Both of them had sisters. In retrospect, it seems far better for a woman to swallow her pride and learn such things as opposed to hiding her humiliation later.
Access to care is a big issue. In May of 2013, the Texas House and Senate passed a bill that will require all Texas hospital emergency rooms to provide rape examinations. This legislation is aimed at giving victims better access to care but, more importantly, forensic evidence must be collected for use in a court of law. In Dallas county, Parkland Memorial Hospital has state-of-the-art emergency rooms designated for rape victims and a host of programmes for victims of sexual violence.
Community-based rape crisis centres are a key to restoring equilibrium to victims of sexual violence. Not all women will report a rape. The glare of publicity and the messy nature of the legal system cause many women to balk at reporting this crime. However, women need a safe haven — a place where they can receive professional counselling, a place where they can seek healing from the emotional wounds that can linger for years after an assault.
Only women who have never been ambushed and assaulted dare to condemn the victim. Perhaps concocting reasons for why a woman is raped provides Dr Asha Mirje with a psychological shield. She does all of the ‘right things’ to keep from being assaulted. Or is she really safe? Rape begins with ambush.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org