We need to talk about rape. While western society has gleefully turned its spotlight onto "India's problem with rape" – a symptom of a backward culture, they cry – an entire town in progressive America – Steubenville, Ohio – has allegedly orchestrated a cover up to ensure that two of its star football players are not convicted for that same crime.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, people are still being prosecuted for naming the victim of Sheffield United footballer Ched Evans, a crime for which he was imprisoned last year, because they truly do not believe that she deserves anonymity, nor that what happened to her was actually rape. Judge Niclas Parry summed up why in a separate case last month, when he told Caernarfon Crown Court that the victim there had "let herself down badly". Yes, Indian culture has it ingrained that victims of assault are to blame, and instructs them to limit their freedoms to prevent it – but it is entrenched in our society, too.
From the general public to Joanna Lumley to MPs and the police, the message is clear: women who drink too much and wear skirts too short have it coming. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that the majority of attackers are known to their victims, meaning that their clothing, levels of intoxication and location are largely irrelevant. Which might suggest, amongst other things, that responsibility is being pinned to the wrong party.
Women are by no means the only victims of rape, nor men the only attackers. However, statistically the two are overwhelmingly the case. This is why it needs to be considered a gender issue. This is why it is necessary to consider the way that society views women, and places the blame on them for the acts done to them by someone else, whilst ignoring that someone else.
Rape is an act of violence; it is about power, not sex. All the while that men are granted power in society at the expense of women, it will be endemic. This is relevant even when the victims are male. Often, they will be feminised, the implication being that weakness and victimhood are a woman's role. To suggest that rape will ever stop being used as a weapon whilst this is acceptable thinking is optimistic at best.
That rape affects both men and women must never be undermined. However, that it does not affect both genders equally should not be forgotten. Rape is about power imbalances, something that gender inequality enables very effectively, even when the victim is male. Negative connotations of femininity allow such an expression of masculinity to prevail regardless. Let us never underestimate the significance of gender equality.
The writer is a student of War Studies at King's College, London
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