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Tackling sexual violence requires change in society

We women limit ourselves because of the existence of a potent possibility of sexual violence. Trivialising sexist comments – for example, where arguing boys call one another “little girl” – clearly objectifies and patronise women. Not only that, some people have the audacity to justify rape by assuming that only promiscuous women get raped.

Rape cannot be normalised as a crime of passion, nor is it a matter of a stupid decision or frenzied desire. Not talking about rape does not mean that it does not exist.
There are countless rape jokes thrown around in India, 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 victory in sport.
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 about 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. Then there is Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav’s infamous claim that “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. 
International humanitarian law recognises inclusion of rape as a war crime and crime against humanity, and yet we in India believe that capital punishment is going too far. But, our policies should balance between punishment, deterrents and reform. Justice should be reformist and retributive at the same time. 
The United Kingdom has campaigned for initiatives for relationship change. The Southampton Talking About Relationships (Star) initiative is a rape-preventive intervention in the UK that targets young people. It aims to prevent rape by educating and empowering young women and men to choose the “gendered cooperation” relationships model, which is respect-based and complies with the principle of consent.
In the international arena, rape is treated as a 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”.
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 are convicted in the courts.
This would require reforms of the criminal justice system. According to a National Crime Records Bureau report, 34 per cent of all crime committed against women in India is rape. Out of all rape cases, less than 3 per cent end in conviction.
Prevention of rape requires changing the minds of men to deter them. For this purpose, education, media and culture are an appropriate focus of preventative action.

Appropriate changes
An important priority is looking after the victims-survivors. The hurt and harm from rape are considerable and often long-lasting. It is possible to substantially mitigate the effects of rape by good practices, healing, recovery and helping survivors regain a place in society. This is potentially offered by specialised support services.
How are appropriate changes to policies to be made? This requires gender-balance in decision-making, from police 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.
To achieve our goal of a safe society for women, punitive laws 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, and media.

MOULSHRI KANODIA is a German Chancellor Fellow at Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung

Published : May 07, 2018

By : Moulshri Kanodia The Statesman Asia News Network