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Dealing effectively with a horrendous crime

To achieve our goal of a safe society for women, punitive laws must play an important role but to eliminate the root cause of a single gender dominating, mindsets need to be addressed through long term interventions in education, awareness, and media.

Moulshri Kanodia |

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” clearly objectifies and patronise women.

Not only that, some 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 a matter of 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 recognise 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 rape cases are on a rise in the country because men and women interact with each other more freely. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s infamous statement “rape accused should not be hanged. Men make mistakes.” 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 public discourse.

The international humanitarian law recognises inclusion of rape as a war crime and crime against humanity and yet we believe capital punishment is going too far. But, our policies should balance between punishment, deterrents and reform. The justice should be reformist and retributive at the same time. There are many examples of promising practicing that can go a long way in removing 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 initiative (STAR) 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 relationships model which are respect-based and comply with principles of consent.

Even in the international arena, rape is treated as human rights violation. The UN 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 were more usually convicted than not. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report, 34 percent of all crime committed against women in India is rape. Out of all the cases on rape, less than three percent end up in conviction.

Therefore, even in India, we need practices that intervene in the casual pathways leading to rape which have a reformist effect on our patriarchal behaviour.

The prevention of rape also requires the changing of the minds of men to deter them from 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 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, by specialised practices. How are appropriate changes to policies to be made? This requires the mobilisation of relevant factors. 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 rape in marriage; making rape a state offence; and creating specific offences for rape against children, which can be defined as “strict liability” if it can be proved to have happened then no defence can be entered.

Therefore, 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, & Researcher at Harriet Taylor Mill Institute, Berlin School of Economics and Law