Since the inception of human kind the one thing that has remained constant is progress. From eating raw meat to eating cooked food, from living in caves to living in houses, from wearing naturally available material like leaves, animal skin to wearing man made material like cotton; we have progressed a lot. We have also progressed in our thoughts and perceptions: from treating colored people as slaves to considering all races to be equal, from aiming for superiority through wars to aiming for equals status and friendly relations, from organizing child marriage to abolishing child marriage, from restricting women to housework and raising children to encouraging the education of women and their development in all fields; we indeed have come a long way.
Yet, why is it that we continue to maintain a regressive mindset and attitude towards certain social issues? One such social issue that bugs me down is the stigma around rape victims.
The Allahabad High Court has recently observed that the ‘character’ of a rape victim was still not an ‘absolutely irrelevant’ circumstance in a rape trial. Justice Ranjana Pandya observed as follows:
“Law recognises that a woman even of easy virtue, or even a whore for that matter, has personal dignity and honour. She cannot be violated. It must however be conceded that immoral character would still not be an absolutely irrelevant circumstance. It may render the story itself as incredible. It may take away probative force of the story, told as it is by a woman with no scruples or morals.”
As per the Judge, the conduct of the victim during the alleged ordeal is also unlike a victim of forcible rape and betrays somewhat submissive and consensual disposition.
Thus, the character of woman of ‘questionable nature’ can be put forth to decide for punishment and its severity. How far are we when it comes to sensitization towards victim, who has just faced the worst the life has to offer? How is questioning of a woman’s character in relation to the crime that has been committed? How long are we going to blame the women for inviting sexual assaults?
According to the Oxford English dictionary, the definition of rape is, “The crime, committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, especially by the threat or use of violence against them.”
A rape victim suffers physiologically after the incident takes place. The victim has anxiety attacks, spells of crying, hysteria, vomiting, nausea, pronounced internal tremor and much more. The victim might also have an unwanted pregnancy. After the initial stage, the victims begin to resume their daily routine while still going through emotional turmoil which they cope with through various defense mechanisms like suppression, explanation, dramatization, for instance. In the final stage the primary focus is to not make the rape the central focus of their lives and to move on.
However, after going through all the stages, there is one crucial component which doesn’t let the victim forget about the incident and that is the society. As if the victims haven’t already suffered enough from the incident, the society shames and condemns them, often publicly. Not only that; the society also starts questioning the character of the victim implying how the person’s “working late at night” or “wearing inappropriate clothes”, were the causes of the rape. Victim blaming is another aspect of the stigma associated with rape. Here, the victim is made to believe that the incident was his or her fault and not that of the rapist, that it was the victim who seduced the rapist into committing the act. Victims of rape have difficulty in getting jobs. They aren’t considered to be suitable for marriage alliances by a major portion of the society.
However, there are certain institutions concerned with the rehabilitation of rape victims in the society. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAIIN), After Silence, Stop Rape Now are some of the organizations in which work towards the sensitization of rape victims is done. Still, the government hasn’t taken any significant actions to help rape victims rehabilitate in the society and to end the stigma.
Rape is a crime which hurts the victim physically and emotionally. It isn’t the victim’s mistake that the unfortunate incident took place. Then why blame them? After coming through the whole incident, a rape victim should be applauded for their courage and should be treated sensitively. They shouldn’t be mislabeled, looked down upon or blamed for it. After all, it’s not their fault. It never is.