The rape crisis
Before our child in Kashmir becomes just a number adding to the world statistics on child rape, let us slow down and imagine a world where there is less anger and desperation. How do we get there?
A few years ago when I was living in Egypt, I was dismayed when the UN found that 99 per cent of women surveyed across seven regions in the country had experienced some form of sexual harassment. I asked my friends and discovered that harassment and sexual violence in varying degrees was indeed rampant.
Sexual violence occurs in traditional and liberal societies. In fact, it occurs the most where one might least expect it to be; Sweden, Australia, Belgium, United States, New Zealand featured amongst the top 15 countries with highest incidents of reported sexual violence in 2010, according to the UN.
These countries are not in any grave turmoil or abject poverty that may breed frustration to the extent one would think could spark off extreme forms of violence. These are also countries with fairly high per capita income. Indeed, there is some correlation of sexual violence to income, but not an absolute one. Intimate partner violence range from 23.2 per cent in high-income countries and 24.6 per cent in the Western Pacific region to 37 per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and 37.7 per cent in the South-East Asia region.
An act of deep frustration and anger, sexual violence is more common and ugly than we might tend to guess. Indeed, sexual violence often goes unreported, more so in developing countries and those in conflict or at war. In certain societies, it is a matter of great social stigma, so much so that it might even be a cause of more trouble. Further, most rape research and reporting to date has been limited to male-female forms of rape. There is some research on male-male and female-male that is beginning to be done, with almost no research on female-female rape.
And so from the data we have, as many as 38 per cent of all murders of women globally are committed by intimate partners. Nearly 70 per cent of all reported sexual assaults — this includes assaults on adults — occur to children aged between 17 and under nine. Around 44 per cent of rapes with penetration occur to children aged under 18. Around 15 per cent of those raped are terrified, helpless children younger than age 12.
On April 11, 2018, there was little else I could think of other than the Kathua rape victim. Family and friends confessed how saddened they too were by this rape and eventual murder of the eight-year-old in Kashmir. Many — including me — expressed anguish on social media. Some others took to the streets.
Sadness usually is hard to explain, just as much it is to forget. However, just days after the incident, at a candle light march for the girl in Delhi, the desire for selfies with celebrities overpowered the grief for her rape and death. A week later, the mood began to mellow down. Some amongst us have now moved on to express horror at the next scandal in the news.
It appears that the 24/7 newsfeeds and always ‘on’ social media apps have resulted in a global dilemma ‘to like or dislike’ — a predicament that requires ultra speedy user reaction. Mainstream media often likes to ride the wave of the most ‘trending news’, while politicians never waste a crisis to show their opponent down and move on to the next big news.
In our world today, there is anger everywhere — the worst of its kind that leads to pitiable acts of sexual violence — even though we are all born innocent, sweet, and loving. I look at my five-month-old boy and marvel at the joy he radiates with his beaming ever-ready smile. I think about how I could preserve forever that innocence and those laughing eyes. I am saddened but amazed by the guileless glittering eyes of the baby sitting on the hip of his sister, desperately begging at the traffic light, his arms around her neck. Anywhere and in any situation, we were born innocent. How do we keep that joy and positivity within humanity, instead of transforming that into emotions that make rapists and murderers?
And so before our child in Kashmir becomes just a number adding to the world statistics on child rape, a mere disturbing fading memory, another cause that called for a candle light march, a Facebook post that will soon be replaced, let us slow down and imagine a world where there is less anger and such desperation. How do we get there?
For solving almost every social problem nowadays, we tend to go looking for causal effects in the economy, or blame the polity, which then further convolutes the problem. These are usually intimate problems infesting our society, but we search for solutions afar. Perhaps doing so removes the burden off our heads to fix the situation. It makes us feel less guilty.
The state of the economy or the nature of governance indeed shape society, but the solution to violence lies within us. The journey of search for solutions needs to be directed inwards. What can we, as members of society, do to be more resilient? Can we be less reactionary? Must we not choose better leaders? Let us please raise children who grow up to be adults that are less angry? Slow down… pause… introspect… act.
Miniya is the author of Indian Instincts: Essays on Freedom and Equality in India, Penguin Random House (2018), and the CEO of Sustain Labs Paris, the world’s first sustainability incubator.
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