Rape, media coverage and our bloodstained hypocrisy

First published on the 30th of December 2012 on Loyarburok

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’.

9 thoughts on “Rape, media coverage and our bloodstained hypocrisy

  1. Singapore’s per capita rate for rape is twice as high as India’s. Yep. In Malaysia, the Polis often try to get the rape victim to marry the rapist to cover up the crime. Sad but true!

      • I think it is at times interconnected, the sexual violence against adult women and children. The profile of those abuse who children is not always the disturbed, perverse caricature but often individuals, mainly men, who are perceived to be upstanding members of society (there’s a BBC Radio 4 podcast with Susie Orbach on why people become sex offenders recently). Because they think they are perceived that way, women and children are likelier to be disbelieved. Thinking of the Saville et al cases here and the many, many children who were silenced because the men who abused them were influential and powerful.

    • “Singapore’s per capita rate for rape is twice as high as India’s.”

      Nothing can diminish the severity of rape, however frequent in a country, but comparing India and Singapore is comparing two rather dissimilar things. To begin with, India’s population is way, way bigger than Singapore.

  2. Cik, sila refer komentar2 sini:
    http://cursingmalay.blogspot.com/2013/01/adik-adik-ada-rasa-ghairah-menonton.html

    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….

    • Komentar di blog tersebut agak ganjil. Sudah pasti penulis nya yang ghairah dan memikirkan yang bukan-bukan, bukannya kanak-kanak. Kanak-kanak disebut sekadar bumbu kontroversi dan ‘moral panic’ saja.

      Saya sangat setuju dengan pendapat saudara/i dan sudah pun terbukti wanita yang telah diperkosa dianggap bersalah; tiga lelaki yang dituduh merogol dan membunuh mangsa di New Delhi mengaku tidak bersalah. Alasan mereka – mangsa “berfoya-foya” pada waktu malam – maka mangsa tanggunglah ‘akibatnya’.

  3. I’m really disturbed reading the comments from those tweeters. As Women Advocate working with domestic violence/rape victims I’ve met and worked with many victims assaulted by their family members. I’ve met children under 12 and I’ve met women over 60 who were raped father, grandfather, brother, nephew and cousin.
    Women who work in human/social service agencies or hospitals in Malaysia must have heard and met with rape victims who were assaulted by their family members, but they never went forward because of many reasons.

  4. Super unsurprisingly, commentary from women reeks of “get in line, I am better (chaster) than you”. I think there’s something poisonous about this attitude because it implies that rape is a proportional punishment, rather than a crime. (And of course, it eventually leaks into attitudes about abortion erasing the ‘reprisal’ of pregnancy from pre-marital sex). Worse of all, victim-blaming is always extra horrible because it okays the behaviour of men who rape; working on the basic assumption that there will always be men with tendencies or urges to rape, which is demeaning to men and giving them a pass to be a lesser human being.

  5. But of course, it is always a certain kind of men who rape: the stranger in the dark alley, the deranged sex maniac, evil evil types. Boyfriends, male friends, neighbours, male family members and relative are usually removed from immediate suspicion. Women can never win: knowing your rapist makes you suspicious of being complicit in your own victimhood, not knowing your rapist means you weren’t careful enough.

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