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India’s Government’s Response to Rape

I was reading an article today on the latest controversy in India surrounding rape. The subject of the article did not interest me as much as two random little details:

1) “There were more than 24,000 reported rapes in India in 2011, but activists say the real number is many times higher.”

2) “Following a public outcry over the Delhi attack, India introduced tougher rape laws in March, which include the death penalty for repeat offenders and for those whose victims are left in a ‘vegetative state.'”

Bear with me, I might not be taking this where you think I am…

#1: 24,000 rapes? Is that a lot? It’s a big number, but I have no idea how it compares. So I went looking for numbers… The US had 90,000 reported rapes in 2008. That’s a lot more. Factor in that India’s population is significantly more than the US (India=1,210,193,422 in 2011; US=308,745,531 in 2010) and rapes per capita in the US is way bigger than in India. But India’s populous is making a huge fuss. So, Americans… where’s our outrage? This is CRAZY; one in five women experiences sexual assault in our county. Rape and consent need to be a topic of discussion in our country (by our people, not our ineffective legislators) until these numbers change!

(*I realize the year for the statistic is not always the same. I’m making a bit of an assumption that there’s not been dramatic change between 2008 and 2011)

#2: The Indian government’s response to the public’s outcry was to create harsher punishments. I’m all for harsher punishments. And yet, I’m concerned that this isn’t *actually* addressing the problem. If the fine for speeding goes up do you watch your speedometer more closely? I think the average person doesn’t. So when someone’s in the position to rape someone, are they going to stop because they could get put to death? Probably not.

Now, don’t get me wrong: perpetrators need to face justice for the harm they do. From my vantage point it seems spot-on to include jail and the death penalty as possible consequences. My point is only that these are not the things that are taken into account before a rape is committed.

If you want to *prevent* rape, then you need to intervene with potential rapists before they rape. There need to be better education programs that teach respect for other people, empathy and enthusiastic consent. There needs to be a culturally accepted idea of masculinity that is not threatened by women and which does not objectify and use women (and all others “less-than”) to enhance one’s own dominance or social standing. And, of course, there also needs to be consequences when someone does not meet society’s standard.

I hate leaving things without concrete, actionable things to do, but for now this is what I have. Action items will have to wait for another post.

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