Punitive laws play an important role in making the society safe for women but we must strike at the root: A change of mindset through long-term interventions in education and awareness is essential
We, women, limit ourselves because of the existence of a potent possibility of sexual violence. Trivialising sexist comments, in which arguing boys call one another ‘little girl’, to deign the other clearly objectifies and patronises women. Not only that, people also have the audacity to justify rape by assuming that only promiscuous women get raped.
Rape cannot be normalised as a crime of passion; neither is it a matter of a stupid decision or frenzied desire. Not talking about rape does not mean that it does not exist. There are countless rape jokes thrown around; and rape is often used as a verb to describe excelling at something.
One can often hear a man saying “we raped the game”, depicting his powerful victory in a game. Our language is systematically desensitised to the severity of sexual violence, which is evident in the casual use of the term ‘rape’. This victimises women to male aggression and intimidation.
We must realise that there is a fundamental error in our thought process if narratives around incidents of rape are taken lightly. For instance, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee believes that rape cases are on a rise in the country because men and women interact with each other more freely.
Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s infamous statement “rape accused should not be hanged. Men make mistakes” was a shocker.
When such statements come from our politicians, it is indeed a matter of concern because as public representatives, they have the power to make or break the public discourse.
The international humanitarian law recognises inclusion of rape as a war crime and crime against humanity; yet we believe capital punishment is going too far. But our policies should be balanced between punishment, deterrents and reform. Justice should be reformist and retributive at the same time.
There are many examples of promising practices that can go a long way in eliminating these fundamental errors. Mexico has integrated a better understanding of rape within its law. The Mexican law on violence against women conceptualises violence as gender-based and systematic. It is understood as a culture rooted in male domination.
The United Kingdom has campaigned for initiatives for relationship change. The Southampton Talking About Relationships (STAR) initiative is a rape preventive intervention in the UK that targets young people. STAR aims to prevent rape by educating and empowering young women and men to choose gendered cooperation relationship models which are respect-based and comply with the principles of consent.
Even in the international arena, rape is treated as human rights violation. The United Nations treats violence against women, including rape, as a form of “gender-based discrimination” as well as “a violation of women’s human rights”.
Rape is a consequence of both gender inequalities in power and also of an absence of effective state power to sanction offenders. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to deter people from committing crime by deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation. But most rapists are not convicted. The deterrent effect of potential punishment is only likely to occur if rapists were to be convicted in the courts. This would require reforms of the criminal justice system so that rapists are more usually convicted than not.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, 11% of all crimes committed against women in India was rape. Out of all these cases, a minuscule percentage ends up in conviction. Therefore, even in India, we need practices that intervene in the causal pathways leading to rape, which can have a reformist effect on our patriarchal behaviour.
The prevention of rape also requires changing the minds of men so that they do not want to rape. For this purpose, education, media and culture are an appropriate focus of preventative action.
An important priority is looking after the victims-survivors. The hurt and harms from rape are very considerable and often long-lasting. It is possible to substantially mitigate the effects of rape by good practices, healing, recovery and regaining a place in society. This is potentially offered by specialised support services through specialised practices.
How should appropriate changes to the policies be made? This requires the mobilisation of relevant actors. But it also requires gender-balance in each of the relevant domains of decision-making, from police to peace-keepers to parliamentarians.
There have been numerous legal reforms in recent years, including criminalising of rape in marriage; making rape a state offence; and creating specific offences for rape against children, which can be defined as ‘strict liability’ ie, if it can be proved to have happened then no defence can be entered.
Therefore, in order to achieve our goal of a safe society for women, punitive laws do play an important role, but to eliminate the root cause of a single gender dominating mindset needs to be addressed through long-term interventions in education, awareness and media.
(The writer is German Chancellor Fellow at Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung, and a Researcher at Harriet Taylor Mill Institute, Berlin School of Economics and Law) (Courtesy: Pioneer)