To reveal or not to reveal - The identity of a rape victim

Posted September 4, 2013 from India

Bachi Karkaria, a renowned Indian journalist and columnist recently wrote in a piece about revealing the identity of rape victims in India in order to change the equations in the "blame game", from the victim to the accused. Her views about helping to "cast aside the veil of misplaced disgrace", is definitely well- intended though we need to understand the implications of this decision- socially and legally.

India is still largely a patriarchal and misogynist society that condones rape and sexual crimes, whether tacitly or explicitly,and because of widespread lawlessness that encourages it.When a woman is raped,along with the social rebuke, she has to forcibly face the cruelty of being blamed equally for the crime. In our national language- Hindi,the word for rape is "izzat lootna" or losing honor, which quickly stamps the victim as having lost her and her family's honor, showing how our society is conditioned to reinforce the "blame", on the victim while shielding the rapist from any responsibility for the crime.

When Suzette Jordan was assaulted and gang raped in a moving car by 5 men in Kolkata,one of the government officials was quick to label her a "prostitute" and cast serious aspersions on the character of the single mother living in the city. Unfortunately, in India, the remarks are not restricted to politicians alone as the civil society members participate equally in shunning any rape victim, whether she is an adult woman or a child.

Recently,in the gruesome rape of a 5 -year-old child in Delhi,the people of her locality,predictably, blamed the child and called her "greedy", as she managed to fall into the trap of her rapist who lured her into his room,by offering her a packet of chips.

Therefore, when a rape becomes public,the victims have to face intense social boycott and the belief that "she must have done something wrong to provoke" deeply ingrained within us.

Legally, also we are in no better position as a society when it comes to treatment of rape victims. If at all a woman musters the courage to speak up about the crime and report it to the police, she is made to face extreme humiliation and leering of the officers, who refuse to file that FIR, without first knowing what positions the woman was raped in or what dress she was wearing. Many victims have described this experience as no less than a "re-rape", only this time also of her mind. At the medical office, overcoming the indignity of the two-finger or "virginity test" (a test done to inspect the female's hymen as a process of determining whether she is a virgin),along with the already inflicted physical pain, requires exceptional courage on the part of the victim, if she decides to come out and reveal her identity.

Hence,our society need to understand that though rape, as heinous a crime it is, is NEVER the fault of the victim. Also not every rape victim is "brave enough" to come out and face humiliation at the hands of society. For me the decision of not coming is perfectly understandable, given the serious hypocrisy of our society. I respect that woman equally and I also respect the woman who decides to come out and speak. I completely agree when people say that the veil of anonymity should be removed from the victims to shift the blame to the accused. But for me, that decision must solely lie with the victim and not with anybody else. As the Mumbai photo-journalist rape victim recently remarked -"Rape is not the end of life", the least we could do is offer them that much freedom to chose a life of their own, not based on others' ideals or on the principles of a fake society.

Comments 3

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  • Mukut
    Sep 04, 2013
    Sep 04, 2013

    I would like to add that though I have used the term "victim" in my article, I personally prefer the term survivor. Although in one of the discussions in the 'Feminist India' group, we have had debates on this issue of whether to address the complainant as "victim " or "survivor". Many argued that studies have revealed that women preferred the term survivor over victim because they felt they have moved on from the incident and lead a normal life. But others argued that for a mother whose 5-year-old child was raped and murdered, she no longer cared whether we called her by any name.

    Therefore, it depends solely on the woman who is raped, whether to be called a victim or survivor. I understand that language and use of words is very important while writing/addressing such issues, but I wanted to focus solely on the issue of rape culture and how revealing one's identity after the rape, should not be anybody else's decision but hers.

    P.S. "Survivor" term has a more empowering feeling according to me :)

    Hope, I have not hurt sentiments here. love

  • Yvette Warren
    Sep 04, 2013
    Sep 04, 2013

    "Survivor" is empowering; "victim" is not. Too many people see themselves as victims and live lives of depression. Survivors are often fueled by their righteous anger and can move mountains when anger is productively channeled. Thank you, Mukut, for this insight.

    You are absolutely right. We must allow those who are harmed to decide what they want to reveal and to whom. You are wise beyond your years, and obviously very responsibly compassionate. You are atreasure. Blessings. Yvette

  • Mukut
    Sep 04, 2013
    Sep 04, 2013

    Survivors can move mountains when anger is productively channeled,true.

    Thank you for your compassionate comments. You always write very encouraging feedback, which makes us feel so much better :)

    You are a treasure too.