The gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in India this week has prompted protests in Delhi the likes of which that country has rarely seen.
Men who commit rape there are unlikely ever to answer for their crime; most sexual assaults go unreported or uninvestigated, with cases languishing for more than 10 years before they even reach the courts. Women’s safety and their right to exist have been consistently low down the list of priorities.
It has taken a girl being beaten with a crowbar and raped so violently by six drunken men that she has had to have most of her intestines removed to galvanise a wider response to the problem. But the beginning of something is here: political leaders have put aside their differences in order to discuss the issue. Such a case highlights the real problems of inequality and gender violence that remain not only in India but in the broader global community.
Let’s consider what the “enlightened” have to say about it all. An argument kicked off – online, where else? – this week over what may or may not constitute rape. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Good Men Project aims to cater for and delineate modern masculinity. Last week, it published a piece entitled “Nice Guys Commit Rape Too”, in which the author detailed the travails of her male friend who, spurred on by the flirting and witty badinage of a woman he was in a bar with, was moved to penetrate and have sex with her as she slept later that night. He didn’t mean to rape her.
I’m not about to compare what happened in Delhi with this instance. But as long as there are loopholes to be found, be they the apathy of the judiciary or the idea that rape can ever be accidental, the less likely it is that rape and its victims will be taken seriously. As long as rape is belittled in the developed world by the sort of bravado and bombast that comes of the “she was asking for it” school, the starker the consequences in the developing world, where ideologies fail to change, where justice is not served, and where women remain unable to ride the bus. And that stops the rest of us evolving, too.