Rape, media coverage, and our bloodstained hypocrisy

Early yesterday morning, an Indian woman died from severe internal injuries after being raped by six men in New Delhi. The global reportage of an unnamed rape victim is an unprecedented event for a crime that is depressingly commonplace and downplayed or sensationalised in the media.

For once, rape is not just a statistical data or a small news item but magnified to global proportions, thanks to the women and men who revolted in the streets of New Delhi against the complicity of their police force, government, and society in perpetuating sexual violence. Outside of India, men and women who do not normally sit up and express outrage about sexual violence suddenly are jolted into concerted protest.

A few hours after we hear the news, the details of the injuries the victim sustained begin to trickle in. Mourners worldwide absorb every detail to make sense of their anger and in some cases, to be perversely titillated. Many will wonder; first, how bad were her injuries that she died from them? Second, will the perpetrators be punished? The six men have now been charged with murder, but will they walk free later? In India, only 25% cases of sexual violence  end in conviction.

The fact that she was a middle class medical student with a bright future cut brutally short should not be a factor why we – as a world – should care and why the horrific attack became newsworthy. We should care because rape must be taken seriously as a crime used to humiliate, avenge, and degrade an individual and whole communities. Rape is not sex or something she ‘deserved’ because of the way she dressed or behaved.

We must scrutinise how exceptional the media attention on this particular case is. Every month, India is mired by a slew of brutal sexual assault and rape cases. Extreme caste and gender inequalities contribute to a culture of misogyny and violence. This year, India has even been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. But all these have failed to move us until now.

Do we really think that because women are treated much worse in India, we have forgotten that rape occurs in Malaysia, too? Call me cynical if I point out that our collective attention and reaction are animated by media-assisted events. In other words, the reason behind our partiality to this one case in India lies in the high level of media coverage by major news providers. A similar argument can be made for how our attention span on an issue is significantly shaped by the speed and ephemerality of social media feeds.

We may not have cared at all, if not for the epic newsworthiness of the event. In fact, pick up any random local newspaper today and it is likely you will come across a similarly horrific case of sexual violence in the country, in your home state, or just around the corner from where you live. The media-manufactured nature of our outrage may be veiling our own hypocrisy about sexual violence against women and its roots in society: gender inequality. In 2007, Nurul Jazlin died from similar intestinal injuries  as the unnamed woman but we did not march out in protest.

Just over a month ago, young Malay women and men of a similar age to the rape victim in New Delhi posted mocking tweets about why women get raped. Below are screenshots of their tweets:

"Amik kau..."

The tweets above may be even more sickening now in light of the nameless woman’s death. Our collective sin of hypocrisy is dwarfed by the banality of evil above. Can we still blame a woman for how she dressed and behaved now that a casualty of rape is mourned on a global scale? If we think media manipulations have nothing to do with our sorrow and anger, why do we mourn this one time? One woman cannot be a sacrificial lamb to stand in for all the thousands of named and unnamed women and girls who have fallen victim to sexual violence.

In the meantime, we should laud every act and gesture that underlines how unacceptable sexism and misogyny is in Malaysia. We are witnessing the germ of this change from the top with the proposed banning of sexist language in Parliament. How is this connected to rape? Rape occurs because we live in a rape culture and a continuum of violence made up of ‘small’ things like harassment, threats of rape, sexual objectification of women, and Ombak Rindu. Every small act and word that shifts the blame on a woman for the unwanted attention and abuse she attracts adds to the impunity of sex offenders. Rapists rape because they believe they can get away with it.

Rape is not more egregious in another country. Protesters in India carried a banner with a message that is both chilling but all too true anywhere in the world: ‘Today is it was her, tomorrow it could be you’.

Acknowledgements: This post credits Fifa Rahman (@fifarahman) for alerting me to the #PuncaPuncaKenaRogol hashtag.

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Alicia spends far too much time in front of the computer writing her next 1000-word masterpiece. When she's not writing she is seen slaving away over a steaming pot of tasty gruel.

Posted on 30 December 2012. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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34 Responses to Rape, media coverage, and our bloodstained hypocrisy

  1. wordstodevour

    http://wordstodevour.blogspot.com/2013/01/rape-an…

    the link is a respond post. enjoy.

  2. A Woman

    It took me a while to find this article again. This is the repercussion of thinking of rape as something that women can be blamed for. This is the type of mentality that we are speaking out against, that hinders justice for women because people give rape victims judgemental looks. Because people hear 'rape' and think "Well, they must have done something to deserve it".

    This is why we say DON'T BLAME WOMEN FOR RAPE.

    Now read this article http://www.manushi-india.org/pdfs_issues/articles…

  3. Felix Homogratus, Dimitri Chavkerov Rules! You pay us we post good about us!!

  4. Awkward

    Cik, sila refer komentar2 sini: http://cursingmalay.blogspot.com/2013/01/adik-adi…

    Bagi tipikal Malay Men, selagi mereka non-gay, mereka anggap dorongan seksual yang tinggi terhadap wanita(& juga apa sahaja objek yg kelihatan seperti wanita) adalah LUMRAH. Short cut mereka, ya.. salahkan wanita seksi. Wanitalah punca rogol. Wanita SAHAJA yang perlu menjaga ‘kehormatan’ diri. Persoalannya, adakah wanita2 seksi di sekeliling yg trigger perogol utk menghancurkan mangsa mereka?

    Adakah kerana nafsu perogol2 ini terangsang melihat wanita seksi di tempat awam, lalu mereka pulang ke rumah(atau cari tempat tersembunyi) utk merogol isteri/anak kandung/cucu/kanak2/remaja sekolah/jiran? Itukah puncanya?

    Pandangan saya, hakikatnya perogol ini yang trigger nafsu mereka sendiri. Mereka yang mencari sumber merangsang nafsu sendiri – menonton porn, membaca fiksyen berbaur seks, mambaca blog yg promote ‘gile seks’ memang cool dll. Lepas merogol, alasan mereka – WANITA SEKSI… Bak kata cik.. sickening….

  5. Azizi

    I really hate it when some shallow minded idiots making judgemental statement without using their brain. Please show some respect to the death. Rape can happen to anyone.
    Btw, I love you article. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Musa Ng

    Two Men,

    I am absolutely appalled at the way in which some people think that they can shift the blame for rape to the woman!! NO WOMAN ASKS TO BE RAPED!!

    To justify raping a woman becos she was flirting with you or she was touching you or she was using a manja voice is wrong. For crying out loud, she is only flirting!

    If women who flirt become the fair game for rape, they will stop flirting and where would that leave us guys, huh?

    We know these flirting girls may or may not want sex – it has been going on since time immemorial!! Cripes, I should not need to be explaining this. I mean, what next???!!! First there was Mummy and there was Daddy … ??

    Sex is a consensual act between two adults.

    A REAL man would always ensure that a woman WANTS to have sex with him.

    • Two Men

      Musa,

      I am not saying it's right. As a matter of fact I agree that it's wrong. Again, I am saying based on the facts on the Indian case that I know, I think she's an unfortunate innocent victim.

      But what I am saying in SOME cases – it many be equally the women's faults. Sometimes the line is blurred when the girls flirted. Eg if the girl can touch you, then can you touch them in return? I have girls who slapped me on the buttocks. Can I do the same? I am quite sure – you Mr Musa – will truly enjoy this based on your reply above and probably would have bend over slightly more..

      As an analogy, Mr Musa – why don't you leave RM100k of cash in your garden/porch and put a sign "I don't want this to be stolen!"" and when it's stolen, claim insurance and say it's totally not my fault!!! They shouldn't have entered my garden or stole my property. On a simpler analogy, if you know an area is pick-pocket prone, do you still put your bulky wallet at the back pocket.?

      What I am saying, in some cases – (again to be differentiate from the Indian's case) – prevent all you can – don't go to dark places, or places where it's known to happen. Worse – do you go to these places and flirt with them? and then later cry rape as if it's not your fault at all? Do you go to a party where you know there are hormonal and drunk and crazy teenage kids where everyone is known to have sex and expect nothing to happen? If yes, then I think you should be offended too…

      • A Woman

        You can advise your family and friends on ways to help keep themselves safe. That's all well and good. But you should not tell a rape victim 'Well it's your fault for…'. We must make the distinction between a 'preventive measure' and 'placing blame'. Yes, it would be wise to take precautions. No, it is not a woman's fault if they are raped. It is NEVER the crime of the victim. It is the crime of the offender. Never forget that.

        And bro, if a woman slaps your buttocks, that's sexual harassment. Sexual harassment goes both ways, you know. It doesn't only happen to women.

        • Two Men

          Just as an analogy –
          As you said it's NEVER the victim's fault.

          Let's say you leave your car unlock in a neighbourhood u know cars are known to be stolen and put a sign – "Car unlock, key is inside and owner will be back tomorrow" and if the car is stolen. Do you say "it's not my fault AT ALL"? Legally, it's may not be but I am talking about morally. I will be totally unsympathetic to you. As a matter of fact, I wud say you deserve it!

          And in this case, I am talking about temptation. I think we are in agreement a rape is always a rape and that's a crime (similar to the car analogy) but what I am saying is why even create the temptation? (again I meant this for some cases only)

          If you dress sluttier than normal people in office, use the manja voice and kept brushing ur body against Mr Musa, leaning against Mr Musa exposing some body parts when you talk to him, standing at a distance nearer than usual and hit his butt occassionally? (which i am quite sure Mr Musa wooullddd love). And when Mr Musa touched ur buttock, do you say it's sexual harassment or assault?

          • Two Men

            Again – I am truly sympathetic towards the Indian lady and her family based on the facts given.

            If you look at the tweets posted above, I am sorry – I can't be sympathetic towards the lady mentioned in the tweet if she got raped. She is wearing super sexy clothing at 2-3am in the morning revealing her boobs, with heavy make-up and get to know strangers at this time. I simply cannot say – "it's not her fault at all."

            I will stop my reply here – we can disagreee- I will still prefer to analyze from case to case basis and the Indian's case should be differentiated from the case in the tweet. I won't generalize the statement – it's NEVER partially the victim's fault. In some cases, it is and in some cases, it's not – looking at the overall facts of the case.

  7. Two Men

    I can see "A Man"'s point and "A Woman"'s point…

    Think we need to see from case to case basis. There are times when, in agreement with A Man, it may be the woman's fault. Such as the woman may be sending the wrong messages. I have seen woman's flirted with guys during studies and work (such as touching the guy's hand/body when talking or using the manja voice or using body language that they don't use with other women) sending the wrong messages and complained about being harassed later.

    I am quite sure there are truly innocent victims as well, such as the sad case happening highlighted in the article.

    So I don't think there's no way to generalize the behavior of men or the victim.

    Just prevent it all way you can.

    In the car theft analogy:
    1. Lock your car and don't show it off or leave the key on the door.
    2. Don't park your car in areas/ at hours which are theft-prone
    3. And of course, there should be law to deter theft.

  8. A Man

    I'm not against your views about this issue, but don't you think that the 'how we choose to look' factor is kind of crucial in fighting this crime. I know women are being harassed even if they dress decently. But the mentality of people nowadays do not reflect the civilisation that they are living in. By dressing inappropriately, women are actually tempting men which leads to the immoral act. Lets say if we want to avoid our car from being stolen, the worst thing to do is to left it unlock. it is true that, not only women alone should be blame for this injustice. Men also need to be educated but sometimes education will not be enough. The law should be stricken. let it be harsh so that it will put fear into those immoral pricks. Just speaking out my mind-

    • Musa Ng

      A Man,

      Rape is wrong.

      How a person chooses to dress or look CANNOT justify rape.

      Even a naked person walking on the streets is not an invitation to sex – that person could have a mental problem or could have suffered massive trauma and that person actually needs medical assistance,

      Sex between two persons MUST always be by mutual consent. Anything else is wrong.

    • A Woman

      True, we lock our cars to avoid theft. And I agree that dressing modestly might help protect women. But therein lies the problem. Even with locked cars, car theft still occurs. And how many cars that are stolen were actually left unlocked by their owners? I doubt it will be that many.

      Regardless of what women wear, sexual assault occurs. How to prevent it is not really what is being discussed here — the main issue is our society's attitude towards sexual assault and women. And our society tends to put the blame of sexual assault on women.

      The mentality is: "What happened is unfortunate, but if only you [insert reason here] that would not have happened to you." And those reasons tend to be connected what the woman wears, where the woman was, what the woman was doing, etc etc.

      When I was sexually harassed, I was told, "Itu la. Nak sangat jadi engineer. Kan dah kena". THAT is what I'm talking about. So thank you for providing the insights to your mind. I hope you will consider mine insights objectively as well.

    • Alicia Izharuddin

      A Man, no. Choosing how one looks is never a factor in fighting rape. Fighting rape is about saying 'Don't ever attempt rape' on anyone. When you say clothing is a factor, where do you begin to draw the line on what is acceptable, what is modest? Having been in different parts of Malaysia, rural and urban, conservative areas and those less so, I have witnessed the boundary of what is considered modest or sexy shift ever so arbitrarily. Next thing you know a woman is blamed for getting raped because she wasn't wearing a tudung or her skirt was just a little higher than her knees. In your mind, you have certain ideas of what is modest but don't think for a minute that everyone shares the same view.

    • Alicia Izharuddin

      It is never the woman's fault. Because the one who decides whether or not assault has a brain, has feelings, has a heart. You must not perpetuate the rape myth that all rapists are deranged and disturbed people on the fringes of society. Often they are ordinary people, usually ordinary men. Many are men who have committed sexual assault/violence are men of great social influence; Polanski, Assange, Strauss-Kahn etc.

  9. A Woman

    It's sickening how the blame for sexual assault is placed on women. As if somehow, the perpetrator's inability to control their desires is an unchangeable fact that we must live with. Its even more despicable when onlookers scrape the bottom of the barrel to find fault in women.

    Point in case: Not one of the so-called reasons for getting raped posted in the screen shots can describe me. I am a shy, modestly dressed woman and yet I have been sexually harassed while working in broad daylight. And it's still allegedly 'my fault' for being a civil engineer, which is a man's profession, apparently and any woman in this field is just 'asking for it'.

  10. Pak Su

    Yeah Alicia Izharuddin you just hit the nail on the head. Majority of Malaysian men especially Muslims are plagued with intense sexism towards women. I'm getting extremely sick of this irresponsible victim-blaming mentality which is a convenient excuse to cover up the men's own failure of self-constraint. Remember the PAS freak who actually said that women could be raped if they did not cover up? A lot of stupid punks now actually think like that.

  11. ALVIN

    A similar incident happened a few years ago in Klang .

  12. Fia

    Thanks for this issue. Yes I agree,we live in a sexist community. Penalising woman at any issue, from 'man majority' careers, to road rage,to sexual harassment? It is stressful at times. How could people blame girls for a sick world? What have their Parents and my parents thought to my brothers/the boys? It starts at home,from small issues like 'girls are to do house chores' and boys, can just chill?
    Btw…regarding sexual harassment…back in the days (70's possibly), there were not much harassment right? even when girls wear see-through kebaya, fit and short cheongsam,Waist revealing saree and short skirts and etc. Problem is….The society is getting sicker, bloodlust..and the internet porn influence. It's too easy for people to spoil their minds. However, internet is not to be blame wholly, the choices are in each other's hands.
    I also don't agree with the twitter fad blaming girl's image…?? come on… shallow and mean. Girl's in baju kurung,jogging suit or tudung could also be a victim..It's based on the 'raper's' choice. How can you tell one raper's 'taste' to another? And it's more on the raper's 'opportunity' to get an 'easy catch/victim'..no matter if the girl/young boys and girls are thin or plump.

    • roro cooper

      yeah, try telling that to the islamists and stare them straight in the eyes and ask, rape never happen in islamic communities? see how they throw a fit.

      • Pak Su

        hahaha don't even mention it. Religious nutjobs are in fact, the most sex-crazed bimbos you could find on this planet because only these people keep thinking of women's clothing (which leads to sexual fantasies) hahaha!

      • toronto

        U obviously being ignorance. Don't use the term islamists if u don't understand the meaning. Rotten men exist in every society, rape is a crime and education is the only solution.

  13. hutchrun

    Although Indian law doesn't use the term 'Eve Teasing', victims usually seek recourse through Section 298 (A) and (B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which sentences a man found guilty of making a girl or woman the target of obscene gestures, remarks, songs or recitation to a maximum jail sentence of three months. Section 292 of the IPC clearly spells out that showing pornographic or obscene pictures, books or papers to a woman or girl results in a fine of Rs.2000 with two years imprisonment for first offenders. In the case of a repeated offence, the offender may have a fine of Rs.5000 with five years imprisonment imposed. Under Section 509 of the IPC, obscene gestures, indecent body language and negative comments directed at any woman or girl or exhibiting any object which intrudes upon the privacy of a woman, carries a penalty of imprisonment for one year or a fine or both.

  14. Clarissa

    We need to talk about the difference between sex, and violence and brutality by way of sexual acts (and humiliation) in all its gory and ugly details…like for REAL. If one wants to grow a discourse on human rights, there has to be greater public awareness about what really Rape is about. Incest-rape (and I don't mean consensual incest) is also a major yet unacknowledged problem in Malaysia (and many place else) I remember there was this huhah about marital rape sometime in 2004 which itself brought out the problematic notion of marriage and sexual consent that was never resolved (people just moved on with their merry lives). I guess the OWC does not quite help matters in this area (with their equation of social deviance with lack of marital sexual access?!).

  15. audrey lim

    It doesn't matter what women wear, rapists are sick in the head anyway. Whoever who started the #puncapuncakenarogol trend on Twitter really wears prejudice on their sleeves.

  16. audrey lim

    We live a society that tells us "don't get raped" instead of "don't rape". Love this article. Spot on!

    • Alicia Izharuddin

      Thanks, Audrey. It's normal and shall I say it, human, to feel anger whenever a person is raped. This is true for people who say, 'Don't get raped'. It comes from a paternalistic and controlling attitude to say, 'Don't get raped'. And in any society, women and girls are the targets of control. People who say 'Don't get raped' cloak themselves with a protective vibe, which is common in men.

      I'm not entirely sure why society doesn't say 'Don't rape' enough. Maybe because those who have power to make their views known through access and entitlement are mostly men. As a result, we don't hear enough women and girls shouting 'Don't rape us'.

      Men (and not just men) do not enjoy the uncomfortable light of scrutiny to be shone on them. Saying that rape is a man's problem will expose society's myths that many men cannot control their lusts and that given the opportunity, any man can and will rape. No innocent man wants to be seen as a potential rapist, so the rhetoric of 'Don't rape' is silenced.

      We need to focus on men and what we teach boys and men about sex and women to better understand the rotten heart of misogyny.

      • clarissa

        One thing is forgotten here is that there are men who are rape victims, just that the stigma attached to that is so strong that it does not really come up and are even more under-reported. Many of these particularly involved young boys. Not sure if anyone is aware of the issue of the dancing boys in Afghanistan? Buggery involving young boys were pretty common for centuries and Foucault was not fantasizing when he talks about sexual relations between a more powerful man and his younger, more pliable, male partner. Contrary to popular belief, this is not at all representative of homosexual tendencies (or that the men are necessarily homosexuals in the sense we think about homosexuals). While women and girls still form a big proportion of victims of sexual violence, it is not unknown to use that against men during times of conflict.