September 15, 2013

SMILOWITZ: Changing The Culture Of Rape

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In India, a rape is reported every 20 minutes. Last December, a 23-year-old medical student was tricked by a group of six people into boarding an off-duty bus in New Delhi. The men then proceeded to rape the woman and use a metal rod to inflict massive internal injuries, eventually dumping her mutilated and naked body on the side of the road. The woman died two weeks later from her injuries. The brutal gang rape sparked widespread protests across the country and the world, as people called for justice and for a change in the way women are treated in India. However, although the Indian government has enacted a tougher law to deal with crimes against women, in light of recent events, it seems as though the government has not done enough to ensure justice for women across the country.

On Aug. 31, the first verdict in the New Delhi rape case was heard: The suspect — who was 17 at the time of the rape — was sentenced to three years’ detention in a correctional facility. Under Indian law this is the maximum sentence that a juvenile can receive, as the law treats all suspects under 18 as children who should be reformed rather than punished. According to the prosecution, the juvenile was the one who not only lured the victim to the bus but then raped her twice and violated her with the metal rod. Keeping this in mind, The Hindustan Times later reported that for the next 20 months until his sentence is completed, he can watch TV and play games while doing time.

The conviction has caused outrage on all fronts: The victim’s family called for the teenager to be tried as an adult and claimed that they plan to appeal the verdict. Politicians throughout the country are demanding that the age of juvenility be lowered from 18 or 16. Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj wrote on Twitter that she was going to introduce a bill to the Indian parliament this week to amend the Juvenile Justice Act, stating that “the sentence must commensurate with the gravity of the offence irrespective of the age of the offender.” On the other side of the debate, several NGOs and human rights groups have defended the 3-year sentence, including Amod Kanth, founder of children’s rights NGO, Prayas, who believes that rehabilitation and reform is the aim, not punishment.

Only time will tell what the ultimate verdict in the New Delhi rape case will be. However, in the meantime, we must focus on changing this culture of rape. Rewriting laws and amending statutes and constitutional rights is a good step in this direction, but the most impactful transformative change can only happen through redefining the way people think about rape in general. This is not something that can be pinpointed to a certain ethnicity, race, or country; it is not something that can only be found in India. Do not pick up a newspaper this morning, read about the first verdict in the New Delhi rape case and think that these rapes don’t occur elsewhere or are less brutal in the United States. To put things in perspective, take a look at a list of rape statistics published by Huffington Post’s Soraya Chemaly last year:

Look at the last two bullet points and consider what that means for women in this country, especially for women on college campuses, such as Cornell. Last year at least three cases of rape were reported to the Cornell and Ithaca police and there were definitely rumors circulating that some of the rapes were falsified or exaggerated.  Regardless of whether or not they were actually were falsified, incidents of rape on our campus should still be taken seriously. As the new school year begins, our attitudes and perceptions toward rape must change, so that countries, cities and campuses like Cornell can be rape-free and women like the victim in the New Delhi can receive the treatment, equality and justice they deserve.

Ariel Smilowitz is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected]. Why You Should Care appears alternate Mondays this semester.