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Why we blame victims

April 17, 2009

After the recent case of rape in Mumbai, where an American girl of Indian origin was sexually assaulted by a group of male friends with whom she was out partying, I wondered how many people would think that the girl was to blame for the rape. She went partying with guys and she drank and apparently spent the night with them in the same apartment. She has clearly said that she passed out and had no recollection of what happened but I wonder how many people believe her.

There is some complex psychology which explains, at least partly, why some perfectly decent people seem to be unsympathetic to rape victims.  Studies conducted in western countries have revealed that in the case of rape a person’s reaction depends two aspects. One, the Situational aspect and the other the Personal.

The first one (Situational) means that those who feel that they or their loved ones will never be in similar situation as the victim tend to attribute more blame to the victim, and this means those who don’t party or go out with the opposite sex and those who don’t drink. But those who feel that they could perhaps someday be in the same situation as the victim, and this means that those who do date boys and perhaps have a drink or two, will tend to blame external and societal factors.

This works the other way too, when it comes to the perpetrator. Those who feel they can never be in the same situation as the perpetrator (in this case partying with an attractive girl and drinking along) are likely to attribute more blame to the perpetrator and feel sympathy for the victim.  On the other hand, those who feel that they could perhaps be in the same situation as the perpetrator will tend to find excuses for the rapist…and any claim by the victim that she was tricked into drinking would be met with skepticism.

It is some sort of self-defence mechanism at work, the strong need to protect oneself from blame in case one is ever in such a situation.

The second aspect is the personal one. Those who share some broad characteristics like sex and age with the victim tend to attribute less blame to the victim and more to the perpetrator. And those who share some broad characteristics like sex and age with the perpetrator, tend to attribute less blame to the perpetrator and more to the victim. Another aspect comes into play here, and this could be very important. Those who have rape-tolerant attitudes (some women have these too) will tend to blame the victim more and the perpetrator less. An example of a rape tolerant person is someone who might feel that a woman who dresses scantily is asking to be raped.

The more the commonality with the perpetrator and the more heinous the crime, the stronger is the inclination to blame the  the victim. This might seem odd, because after all a heinous crime should automatically make people sympathise with the victim whatever the circumstances. But no, it doesn’t always work that way. A heinous crime is what shocks people more, and makes their self defense mechanism go into overdrive.

I think this same underlying psychology would work in other kinds of cases too. For example when Ramalinga Raju, the  man who brought Satyam to its knees was caught, I’m sure that many an industrialist, even if he was personally shocked at what Raju had done, felt some amount of sympathy for him, in his heart of hearts at least!  In the Nithari murder case where little children were raped and eaten, there were those who felt sympathy for the owner of the house Moninder Singh Pandher (I read some blog posts by people who felt he was innocent!) but did not feel any for his servant/cook Surendra Koli despite sufficient evidence to prove that Pandher was protecting Koli and proof that he had bribed the police.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Psychology or on Crime. I have gleaned these basic theories from an article I read (which has been linked to) on date rape and what I have done is extrapolate). I write as a layman.

(Photo is by me and copyrighted. It is for representational purposes only.)

Related Reading: Violent Crime in different parts of the world – a small analysis
Incest Rape needs stronger law in India
Why men rape
Male teachers banned in primary schools in Delhi to prevent sexual abuse

Read all posts on Crime on this blog.

59 Comments leave one →
  1. Chirag Chamoli permalink
    April 17, 2009 9:41 am

    Nita, rightly said and also, echo’s with something Doors wrote:
    ‘People are strange when youre a stranger
    Women seem wicked when youre unwanted
    Streets are uneven when youre down

    now the thing is and I am not sure it is just another Indian Trait, we don’t tend to help or support any cause till we have someone we know victimized!

    We would rather withdraw from a difficult situation than try and help for solutions.

    You have give good solid examples here and let me throw in a rather lame example, while we are driving and some one we see falls, how many time we stop and help! Most cases than not we may slow down our vehicle, that’s it. So similarly of not wanting to help the victim seems quite deeply rooted.

    Well Chirag I don’t think that’s a lame example. We don’t identify with road accident victims, not usually. That is certainly part of the reason and ofcourse and additional reason is that we don’t want to help because we don’t want to give our time. And I think as you say this mentality is deeply rooted. – Nita

  2. April 17, 2009 10:04 am

    Answer to title of post: I don’t understand either. Call it our mentality or cowardice to face reality, I don’t know.
    And as far as my brain works, I don’t see any solution, social/psychological to this problem.

    RE: Ramalinga Raju: I saw CEO, COO, CFO and other officers of my company happy to find him caught and our CEO publicly confessed that he will kick everyone’s ass if there is a rupee missing in Audits😀

    Well, I would like to know what your CEO, COO and CFO said to their wives about this!😀 – Nita.

    • April 17, 2009 8:01 pm

      Nita:

      I know you make the wives remark in jest but I sincerely believe that no person can perpetrate a fraud of this scale – and have his/ her family enjoy the uplift in their living standards – without the spouse being complicit and aware of the fraud going on. I think Madoff’s wife knew and so did Ramalinga Raju’s.

      The Valmiki story may talk about accountability differently but I believe spouses are guilty by complicity in such cases.

  3. April 17, 2009 10:30 am

    I read a book by Grisham i think it was , with a similar instance…
    I think that is the problem with all crimes today…people do sympathies with the goons(all the hate speakers etc) as they do connect with them and feel they would / could have done the same….

    Vishesh, yeah I guess some of them do feel the same thoughts, even if they don’t actually say or do! – Nita.

  4. April 17, 2009 10:30 am

    @ Nita : hmmmmm well if nothing else she was a bit naive! One woman gets raped every half hour in India. With those kind of statistics women have a responsibility to protect themselves as well because clearly nothing else is protecting them.

    Odzer, firstly, this lady victim was new to Mumbai but from what I read it seems they put something in her drink so she couldn’t think straight. One doesn’t know the whole fact of the case. But I agree that everyone should be careful, whether here or abroad. – Nita.

  5. ruSh.Me permalink
    April 17, 2009 10:34 am

    Simply, because to escape the blame!!!😐

    We humans are a selfish lot aren’t we!🙂 – Nita

  6. Vinod permalink
    April 17, 2009 11:17 am

    Odzer has a point. It is a failure of some sort for her to be with people and drink whose full names or even real names she does not even know. But it is not a moral failure. At worst it is naive, irresponsible and unwise. But that is for her to chew upon and not something that should factor into our view of the perpetrator.

    (In general, I think it would help women to develop a healthy mistrust of guys and not be too hasty about romanticism in their lives!)

    I cannot find any excuse whatsoever for the calculated (or not) moves of the perpetrators. Such conduct has to come from a long-nourished view of women as objects.

    Vinod, I am glad you have said it is not a moral failure. But everyone is not smart, and there are a lot of gullible and innocent people out there, and not just girls. There are men and women who are conned by internet scams, those who get cheated etc and mostly it is the crime that people focus on, not the victim’s behavior. It should be the same with rape. – Nita.

    • April 17, 2009 11:44 am

      You may know that most rapes are committed by people known to the victim. In other words, people whose names and full names and real names are known to the victim. That is no guarantee they won’t rape her.

      I hope this was not an ostrich-like thought and I hope you know that the women in your family remain more vulnerable to men they know than to men they do not know.

      • Vinod permalink
        April 17, 2009 12:06 pm

        Shefaly, when trust is abused to commit rape there is nothing that can be done other than perhaps teaching ball-crushing self-defence to women. But that does not preclude the benefit of avoiding harm to oneself, rape included, in taking a cautious approach to mixing with strangers.

        • Naveen permalink
          April 17, 2009 12:24 pm

          I agree with you, Vinod.

          An unguarded personality exercising lack of judgement can get anyone (man or woman) into trouble. It is fundamental to realize that it is not smart to give another person the benefit of doubt, till you know them reasonably well. Everything else is secondary.

        • Vinod permalink
          April 17, 2009 12:33 pm

          Shefaly, pls don’t construe my comment as advocating that the solution for rape is for women to avoid mixing/drinking with men. I hope that is not what is coming out of it.

        • Vinod permalink
          April 17, 2009 12:35 pm

          Neither am I making a causal link between rape and women mixing/drinking with men.

          • April 17, 2009 3:08 pm

            @ Vinod : I think often people let go of their guard and they think “this can not happen to me…”. So yeah in that sense it does not matter which gender you are but it pays to play it safe. I am not saying I blame this person though for being out with these people but yeah I do think its callous and naive to be in a foreign land, inebriated and entirely on the mercy of strangers. Worse things could have happened to her.

            @ Shefaly : It may be true that most rapists are known to the victim but that is all the more reason for people to be careful. In India you are never safe as a woman or for that matter even a man against sexual assault.

    • sraboneyghose permalink
      April 17, 2009 9:11 pm

      Vinod,

      I think her being an American had something to do with the rape…Indians have a propensity to take advantage of foreigners especially whites (I don’t know if she is white)…

      I agree with you when you say women should be a little more guarded…Drink, go out with men but don’t get drunk and don’t spend the night with men whose names you don’t know…

  7. April 17, 2009 11:28 am

    Even if a prostitute is standing naked in front of a person, he is not to have any sexual advances without her affirmation.

    That tells my opinion! (I guess!)

    Sakhi, these rape rabid men would never rape a prostitute because they know they will be beaten up by the pimp! They will pick on vulnerable people because they are not just rapists, but also cowards. – Nita.

  8. April 17, 2009 11:42 am

    Nita:

    I don’t understand the situational/ personal explanation of the attitudes towards blame apportionment. I am intellectually averse to binary causal theories and unable to ignore the insinuation that somehow people are unable to judge an issue on its own merit/ demerit.

    Rationality aside, where is basic human decency and compassion, and social mores in all this?

    I read that link and I daresay the article is based on western cultural perceptions and practices. (Ironically, the cultural mistranslation of revealing clothing/ drinking could have increased this girl’s vulnerability from being drunk.)

    One of the papers cited, for instance, says: “.. dominant and submissive college women displayed visually different appearances e.g. submissive women wore body-concealing clothing.”. This, I am afraid, sounds like a load of tosh. Many educated and non-submissive women in India may not wear revealing clothes at all but that does not mean they are submissive just that the perception of revealing clothing in Indian culture is different.

    Further in the article, there are some other gems of the variety that discusses women’s clothing being provocative/ non-provocative. Which seems to suggest that women with revealing clothing are more likely to be date-raped.

    Together it seems, if dominant women wear revealing clothes, and women with revealing clothes get raped, then dominant women get raped more. Right?

    That brings us to a thought – that men somehow want to subdue dominating women, and the only way they can do is through sexual assault. That seems to be how this works, no? This is bizarre, I am afraid. So why does rape not happen more often? Well the paper has covered all ground.

    One of the other papers cited in the link says that rape is a combination of opportunity and vulnerability. Surely the men whom she trusted showed themselves unworthy of the trust.

    Any thinking person would therefore blame the culture that thinks a woman ‘available’ just because she drinks, and the people who violate the trust of people who trust them.

    Here is my way of blame attribution in rape: a man, who takes advantage of the situation to get intimate with a person*, who trusted him or who otherwise may not be willing to sleep with him, is the one who is to blame; men need to learn ‘no means no, not may-be, not yes, just no’.

    And I say this as a non-teenaged, non-revealing-clothing wearing, non-drinker who lives in a drinking culture, but more as a person who respects individuals’ right to safety amid people they know and trust, as well as amid people they do not know.

    I think above all, using the personal/ situational dyad, we blame the victim because most of us think of a rape victim always as a girl. Men blame the girl, women blame the girl. Well, male rape is not than uncommon*.

    Thanks.

    • Vinod permalink
      April 17, 2009 12:10 pm

      And I say this as a non-teenaged, non-revealing-clothing wearing, non-drinker who lives in a drinking culture, but more as a person who respects individuals’ right to safety amid people they know and trust, as well as amid people they do not know

      Good one Shefaly and great comment overall.

    • April 17, 2009 3:33 pm

      Shefaly, I don’t think that the majority of the population is capable of analysing things objectively, without getting affected by the situational and personal aspect and in fact the best of us can be susceptible. I think one needs a good intellectual ability and very good reasoning and logic to be able to be objective. And about that human decency, well in this case (when we act as perceivers of crime) I feel Chirag has made a pertinent point when he quoted Doors!🙂
      About that other thing you quoted, about the clothing aspect and the kind of women, it sounded odd to me too and I don’t know enough about that to comment on it. Maybe it has a cultural significance or maybe it has a germ of truth, I don’t know. It would be interesting to follow this up further and see if how someone dresses has a bearing on the personality! However I tend to believe that rapists target vulnerable women, whether they perceive them to be dominating or submissive. Even a dominating women could be vulnerable in some situations. Anyway, I don’t want to go into this too much as the subject is too complex! Overall though your comment stirred up a lot of thoughts in me, and made me want to go more into the depth of this subject. Thanks!🙂

      • April 17, 2009 7:54 pm

        Nita

        My entire argument draws upon papers cited in the link you have used in the post. Which is why I found the linear conclusions possible so bizarre.

        Clothing definitely is distinctly a cultural thing, one that is on overt display. In N India, they say: eat what you like, wear what others like. That is roughly suggestive of the fact that we dress according to societal norms. (Other hilarious outcomes often result from societal norms too. When I went to see the Sistine Chapel, it was August and very hot. I, a heathen acc to devout Christians, was let in, since I was wearing a loose but full-sleeved cotton shirt and trousers, while many local women were wearing short dresses which meant their shoulders and knees were bare and they could not be let into the chapel!).

        The perceived dominance/ submissiveness can also therefore be culturally determined.

        But then you make an interesting point about rapists attacking vulnerable women. Mahendra also cites something which shows rapists do not quite recall what their victims wore. Which suggests that opportunity plays a greater role in the incidence of rape than a woman’s perceived vulnerability.

        Perhaps all this money spent on research into victim’s clothing/ other factors that promote rape should instead be spent drilling into people the idea that forced sex is not welcome and is punishable under all circumstances.

        Thanks for your last line too.🙂

        • sraboneyghose permalink
          April 17, 2009 9:23 pm

          “Perhaps all this money spent on research into victim’s clothing/ other factors that promote rape should instead be spent drilling into people the idea that forced sex is not welcome and is punishable under all circumstances.”

          Good one! Clothing and alcohol are just excuses…For some reason, people don’t want to blame the rapist…Why? When a person is murdered, nobody talks about his/her clothes or whether he/she was drunk or whether he/she invited the murder…

        • Vinod permalink
          April 18, 2009 2:59 pm

          There are videos on youtube that show men molesting women dressed in the Abaya (the burqa). Clearly, all arguments about clothing leading to sexual should fail in the face of such evidence

  9. April 17, 2009 12:21 pm

    Nita, I haven’t read the articles you’ve linked to as I’m on a very slow dial-up connection. But even though the studies you’ve cited are of a foreign culture, I find those generalizations to be applicable in many cases in India too. I can correlate some of the observations you’ve cited with my own real life experiences.

    The rational ethical judgment is clear: ALL rape is a crime, the perpetrators of rape are guilty, the victims are victims. When discussing whether the victims are guilty or innocent, we must first ask the question guilty or innocent of what?

    Partying, drinking, wearing revealing clothes may make the victim guilty of tempting the perpetrators, enticing them, teasing them, arousing their primordial nature, provoking their ego or insecurity as the case may be, etc., etc. This guilt can be reasonably and justifiably attributed to the victim – that the victim was not careful, was not acting ‘responsibly’, and there was a serious lapse of judgment on the victim’s part. The victim is rationally to blame for these acts of omission.

    However, that does not exonerate the perpetrators. The crime of rape is separate and distinct from the precursors to it. And since the perpetrators are acting out of their own volition, they are ultimately to be blamed for the crime of rape.

    Packaging/combining the actions of these two entities together into a single act with a single entity to blame is the epistemological error many people are prone to commit. The victim may be blamed for his/her actions, but that immorality is of a much lesser nature. The perpetrator of rape is always to be blamed for the grave nature of the crime.

    A pickpocket or thief cannot be exonerated of the crime just because someone carried large amounts of money irresponsibly.

    Shefaly: the issue is not whether people are able or unable to judge an issue on its own merits, it is whether they are willing or unwilling to. I agree that dualistic classification is usually meaningless, but I do like to give credence to studies where the most common attributes behind seemingly unexplainable attitudes are abstracted to provide some possible glimpses.

    And why do we need to keep rationality aside when discussing basic human decency?🙂

    • April 17, 2009 3:44 pm

      Mahendra, I agree entirely when you say:

      A pickpocket or thief cannot be exonerated of the crime just because someone carried large amounts of money irresponsibly.

      I wish more people could see it this objectively. I think because more rape victims are women and more perpetrators of this rape are men, we have a sexist bias of wanting to blame the victim.
      Just wanted to clarify one thing. I don’t think that most rape victims are trying to be seductive. While I agree that people should be careful about going out late at night or to lonely places, either because of the chances of being robbed or raped are higher, do you really believe that a woman who is wearing revealing clothes (who may or may not be trying to be seductive) has a greater chance of being raped? You have not said so, and may not think so, but just wanted to clarify it, for the sake of the readers!

      • April 17, 2009 6:17 pm

        When we talk of ‘chance’, we mean statistics. And statistics show that revealing clothing has nothing to do with the rape in most cases.

        Like Shefaly pointed out above, 4 out of 5 times, women are raped by someone they know.

        Most convicted rapists do not remember what their victims were wearing. These are from the Utah State University site here.

        Relevant to the topic of the post, here are results of a poll in the UK: “Would you say that a woman SHOULD BE held responsible, should be PARTLY held responsible or should NEVER be held responsible if she is sexually assaulted or raped in the following circumstances?”

        I have two other links to share, which I’ll do in a separate comment so as not to get my comment filtered as spam.

      • April 17, 2009 6:22 pm

        Finally, since this incident involved college students: One in three students in the UK thinks that a woman is responsible for being raped if she’s drunk, according to a recent survey of students.

        This just shows, sadly, how far perceptions are from reality.

        This is an age-old topic on the web, widely discussed and reported, down to the point of it being stripped of all the gravity of the crime. People even seem to be cashing in on this topic.

    • April 17, 2009 7:42 pm

      Mahendra:

      ‘Aside’ can sometimes mean ‘apart from’.

      We can however have a separate conversation, game theoretical, on the relationship – or not – between human decency and rationality.😉

  10. April 17, 2009 12:30 pm

    There are two different things: Fixing the blame and Fixing the problem. Fixing the blame because we are not able to fix the problem is silly. Fixing the blame in order to fix the problem can fire backwards as well. Fixing the problem without fixing the blame would be ideal. And there is no ideal in this world!

    But when the problem means different things to different people, it is really tough to generalize.

    Destination Infinity

    That’s a good one!🙂 – Nita

  11. April 17, 2009 12:32 pm

    Rape is a crime, and its not about sex, its about violence and brute power! I can not find it in me to rationalise it away or sympathise with the perpetrator. Funnily enough, I can rationalise the Satyam owner’s deeds. I think he was an idiot to get carried away and caught! Now what does that make me?

    Hi Phoenixritu. About your reaction to Raju’s misdeeds, I think perhaps you thought that if this man was so intelligent and capable enough to start off a successful company how was he so stupid as to get caught! Well I have an answer to this. Greed! Greed makes people blind. – Nita.

  12. April 17, 2009 6:55 pm

    Any adult who makes a choice of his/her friends and decides to stay late night at drinking parties,should also be careful with going arounds around them.Not that I support in what has happened with the American lady,there are so many unfortunate accidents,deaths due to negligence,children being beaten-up in the schools,deaths due to ragging,do we really react to all the situations similarly?

    • April 17, 2009 9:43 pm

      Absolutely BK! You have brought out pertinent points! No one blames a victim of ragging even though the death or severe injury caused by a ragging incident is often caused because the victim refused to be ragged! I think this is the perfect example you have given! Of late there have been many ragging incidents and there was the death of that young doctor’s son recently and all because he refused to take the bullying! Yet no one ever blamed him! If in the same college a girl and been raped and murdered the reaction would have been different.

  13. Indian Homemaker permalink
    April 17, 2009 6:59 pm

    Nita I have always felt this without really giving it a thought. This is an accurate analysis. Brilliant in fact!!

    When I was writing this post, I was thinking of your posts on this topic and the fact that you feel so strongly about this! – Nita.

  14. April 17, 2009 7:39 pm

    India is not a very safe country for women. Combine that with a lackadaisical attitude of law enforcers and you have a potentially dangerous situation. All women visiting here should be warned about this beforehand and given tips to be extra careful (you can never be more careful with some Indian men who are total jerks). More than rape, foreigners are usually common targets for molesters and they should be warned about being in crowded places without company.

    As for people who are heartless enough to blame the victim I hope they rot in Hell.

    rags, I too think that while visiting any foreign country one needs to know what to look out for. Perhaps in this case the girl trusted the boys because they were from wealthy families and were friends of a friend. Just proves that class plays no part in rape! The rich too are waiting for the opportunity! All the boys are from wealthy families. I hope they rot in jail for the next 10 years. – Nita.

  15. April 17, 2009 7:43 pm

    Nita, I sometimes think we blame victims as a way of psychologically distancing ourselves from the terrifying realization that the same thing or worse could happen to us. That’s just a hunch though.

    Paul, I am sure that this plays a part too. The blaming I think would be a kind of outlet for the fear. – Nita.

    • April 17, 2009 7:57 pm

      Paul

      I think you have the trolley problem in the back of your mind, when you make this point which I think might be also a possible explanation.

      • April 17, 2009 8:03 pm

        I’m sorry, Shefaly, but I’m not familiar with the trolley problem.

        • April 18, 2009 12:19 pm

          Paul:

          It is a thought-experiment in ethics involving a trolley which may kill people and the agent who can flip a switch and change the outcome.

          http://tinyurl.com/3ccqa

          There are several versions of the problem but one version includes the concept of ‘distance’. As in, if the outcome of our choice is far removed from us, we choose differently than if it is in our face. That version came to my mind instantly when I read your comment.

          Thanks.

  16. April 17, 2009 8:12 pm

    I think rape seems to be part of a much larger problem of devaluing women that is found in so many societies.

  17. April 17, 2009 8:12 pm

    I hear you. I think that analyzing the perpetrators’ mindset etc is giving them a fairness they do not deserve. I am blogging about this issue of blaming the victim that we Indians indulge in. Will link to your post.

    Shilpa, I have actually analysed the mindset of the one who percieves the crime, how people react to it, not the perpetrator. As for the perpetrator, ofcourse I agree, no excuses need to be found. – Nita.

    • April 17, 2009 8:16 pm

      It’s not just an Indian problem, though. There are plenty of Americans who blame the victim too.

    • Vinod permalink
      April 17, 2009 9:12 pm

      Is it not possible to analyze a criminal’s mind without absolving him of culpability? Why is the very act of analyzing an automatic absolution of any degree?

      • April 17, 2009 9:22 pm

        Vinod, you are right ofcourse. Analysing a criminal’s mind does not exonerate him at all! In fact I have done that in a previous post of mine on why men rape.

  18. April 18, 2009 12:16 am

    In a way it is deeply ironic that we are discussing this issue of blaming the victim for her rape — ironic because rape is one of the very few crimes for which there is almost never an excuse for the perpetrator.

    In almost every other crime, there can be times when the perpetrator’s guilt might be excused. But I cannot think of any such times when a rapist’s guilt ought to be excused — with the one possible exception of if the rapist was too mentally retarded to know that what he was doing was wrong. In a case like that, one institutionalizes the rapist so he cannot rape again, but one does not punish him for his rape.

    So, given how extremely difficult it is to find any rational basis for excusing a rapist — why is this, of all crimes, one of the most excused?

    • April 18, 2009 8:05 am

      Paul, you have brought out a pertinent point:

      So, given how extremely difficult it is to find any rational basis for excusing a rapist — why is this, of all crimes, one of the most excused?

      As you said, rape is an assault on another human being and therefore it is more heinous than say a robbery where no one gets hurt. The answer ofcourse is (to me at least) clear. Women are not considered equal to men. And in some countries society’s attitudes are worse than others. There are still people who think that women “entice” men and that them being seductive is an open invitation to be raped. On examination this argument is flawed because as Sakhi mentioned, prostitutes, who make a living by enticing and seducing, are not raped even if the person who wants one cannot pay for the sex. Rapists are afraid of raping them because prostitutes have protection. A lone prostitute could perhaps be raped but that is why they do not usually work alone. Rapists rape women who say NO.
      I think it is a stupid argument that women who are trying to be seductive want to be raped. So anyone who thinks this is retarded according to me! Someone has already given an example of this. It’s like someone withdrawing a huge amount of money from a bank for his own use. He is not wanting to be robbed. He is withdrawing the money for his own use! I think rapists know the women don’t want the sex. That is precisely why they rape them.

      • April 18, 2009 11:33 am

        Nita

        I think so many rape cases do not end in prosecutions for several reasons:

        1. It is usually a crime with no witnesses, and the court cases boil down to the word of a victim versus that of a possible perpetrator of the crime.

        2. The process of evidence gathering can be destroyed if the police complaint is not immediately made. If the case is to be decided only on the basis of evidence, the insufficiency could mar the whole case. As time passes, it becomes harder and harder to recall things (the brain does block unpleasant memories) and to retain the evidence. Timing is therefore of the essence.

        3. It does not help that some countries (hint: the UK) allow rape victims to remain anonymous while the names of the rapist are all over the media. In such cases, jury trials could also be biased by the same mentality as we use when we apportion blame. e.g. Recently an alleged rapist, named all over, was acquitted because the victim, unnamed, admitted she was too drunk to have consented and kept saying ‘he is not my type’. Although odd, it reminded me of how dowry laws can be and are misused by women in India to get rid of inlaws. It is not far-fetched to think women also could take advantage of sympathetic laws on rape.

        The seduction logic however fails me. In the UK, boys and girls often go out ‘on the pull’, as they say. This means the seductive dressing and behaviour are directed towards nobody in particular, but they take a chance as to whom they could entice to bed that evening. In such a case it is quite probable that somebody entirely wrong picks the signals and then it all boils down to consent which they should be able to give or refuse. It doesn’t help that nearly all social encounters in the UK are fuelled by alcohol and naturally people’s instincts are a bit blunted but it applies both to men and women, both as potential victims and perpetrators of sexual violence. I think rape of men is also underreported (like in, say, upper class rapists’ case as being discussed with Vikram) or not taken seriously.

        PS: Prostitutes are raped often too but their claims are not taken seriously because people consider it a ‘professional hazard’, another way of blame apportionment.

        Shefaly, thanks. Interesting to know about the UK. Yeah, girls do go out to try and attract someone and well, it’s all biological so I don’t know why some men get so uptight about it! It’s a kind of mating dance and women should be able to choose. Even in tribal societies women are allowed to choose. And a woman has a right to back out at any time because she is a human being with feelings and thoughts! – Nita.

  19. April 18, 2009 5:38 am

    Nita, it seems to me that rapists in India mostly tend to come from upper caste/middle class families, is this true or am I wrong ?

    • April 18, 2009 7:47 am

      Vikram, I do not know about caste, but I do know that rapists belong to all classes. Date rape is ofcourse purely an urban phenomenon in India, but it is simply another opportunity which guys take. And then a lot of rapes in India take place in the rural areas and it is often about revenge, not sex. If you talk to the police (like I did when I did an article on rape) they will tell you that the maximum rapes are committed by the poor and unemployed and those who are of a criminal mindset. The police must be right I guess but then there are many other kinds of rapes like incest rape, husband wife rape, date rape which would be not reported in large numbers to the police. Also if an upper class person is accused of rape then it is more likely to be hushed up even if reported.

  20. April 18, 2009 11:09 am

    “The answer ofcourse is (to me at least) clear. Women are not considered equal to men. And in some countries society’s attitudes are worse than others. There are still people who think that women “entice” men and that them being seductive is an open invitation to be raped. ”

    Good point nita. This was what was on my mind too. Men think they can get away with anything especially when their victim is weak and powerless. I agree with Paul. It’s sad that in a civilised society we even have to have this discussion of “blaming the victim”. If a girl was tring to seduce a guy why would she have to be raped, only the ones who say no are raped.

    I too have read that rapes happen more in rural areas and villages. I think the reason is because the chances of a raped woman going to the police is slim, either because of “loss of family honour” or fear of the perpetrators who threaten her family. It all boils down to one thing, whether the perpetrators have a chance of getting caught or not.I don’t think there is an upper, middle or lower class difference in this.

    I think this also is the reason why we have an escalation of rapes in conflict regions (occupied territories) by soldiers who think they can get away with it as the occupied people are powerless against them. That and the ridiculous concept of “dishonour”.

  21. April 18, 2009 12:36 pm

    “I don’t think that the majority of the population is capable of analysing things objectively, without getting affected by the situational and personal aspect and in fact the best of us can be susceptible. I think one needs a good intellectual ability and very good reasoning and logic to be able to be objective.”
    I don’t agree. Anyone with average intelligence can be objective to a certain degree, they don’t do it either because they are too lazy or it suits them to be that way. You should see how rational and objective people become when it comes to stuff like money or when it affects them directly🙂

    rags, well, it sounds reasonable when you put it that way. Although I think people of average intelligence are more liable to become confused when dealing with their feelings and emotions. People with strong inherent social biases for example may be intelligent but unable to be objective. – Nita.

  22. openlight permalink
    April 18, 2009 5:29 pm

    Victims irrespective of crime have undergone the brunt of another human’s evil mindset.

    The evil tendency are present in all of us irrespective of class,creed,religion,sex, age, etc. but it may be dominant or not, in our conscious and unconscious mind.

    Crime is akin to fire it needs all elements wood (victim), air (vulnerability of victim) and spark (opportunity).

    Blaming of victim is useless as the victim had not asked for the crime, and due to unwillingness, the crime was committed.

    Rapes are horrendous in nature as they rob of an individual dignity and right and let the victim sulk in aloofness.

    Regarding provocative dressing, I agree that provocative dress do pump the sexual underlines in an individual and that’s why porn, lingerie industry are still booming. Provocative dress do suggest a willingness for sex or being open to an idea of sex. But, provocative is interpreted differently in different places. Also, individual’s mentality or upbringing also plays role.

    Hence, only way to avoid crime is to cut down the crime essentials – spark ( no lonely or deserted roads) and vulnerable (try to be with someone / take self-defence training / have some handy things in hand ) and of course the mightest weapon that humans have – mind be calm and alert. As we can not change individual’s mentality but certainly can avoid it.

  23. April 19, 2009 5:27 am

    I try to respect most thoughts, but I don’t quite see a lot of intent in the argument that women should carry sprays, learn judo and what not. I mean one should not be suggestive when saying that.

    WHY the hell should a woman bother herself with all this – carrying a spray or a knife or learning self-defense to save her modesty, all the while having the constant worry to rescue herself out of every place?? But because she can limit her rape to molestation because of a spray, it does benefit an individual victim. But we sometimes assume it as a valid solution. I don’t think it is. It is a socio-cultural issue that we/state has to address. Easier said than done.
    In the Taliban-ruled areas of Pakistan, they are whipping burqa-clad young women, as part of Sharia law, on their own whims of moral living.

    Women in skimpy lil skirts and women in salwar-dupatta are raped all over the world, rich and poor demographies alike !

    What’s the point in asking women, of all kinds and cultures, to fend and defend themselves with help of a knife??? The purpose is beaten anyway, cause she would feel half-raped already with all those things to cater to inside her head.

    Vaibhav

    PS: Nita, some of your posts are like one big table-discussion, which is great.. : )

    • April 19, 2009 7:47 am

      Thanks Vaibhav. It is not often that a man can understand what a woman is feeling, a woman who has to step out in the streets to work and do her daily chores and have to worry about these things which fewer men have to. I know men can be raped too, but they are usually not blamed for the rape, women if raped are often criticized. And the truth is that most rape victims are women, although like Shefaly says the rape of men and boys is underreported.
      A woman in India before she steps out of the house has to worry what she wears because there are people out there who will judge her and condemn her by saying she is being seductive even if she is simply wearing something she is feeling comfortable in!

      • April 26, 2009 5:12 am

        Nita, Vaibhav is right. This is more than a table discussion!
        We are faced here with two options: Either we defend ourselves and live to fight another day (which is the traditional way of doing things) or we fight this constantly until the message is out there — don’t mess with us.
        Vaibhav is right — clothes and social behaviour have little do with it. Women get molested in bikinis and sarees alike.
        Sometimes, I wonder, why should one section of the same species have to fight so hard to validate her existence and freedom and rights? Basic rights that too. Why should I have to develop a “healthy distrust” for a section of society from which I am expected to pick a member to share my life with and entrust him with my and our children’s future?
        I am expected to trust my life and the future of this country with a gender I can’t trust to show me the basic respect?

        Something is so odd here…

        U know, it’s the same old saying : If a man sleeps around with several women, he’s a stud. If a woman does it, she’s a slut.

        I see only two solutions. One, women should steadfastly refuse to be treated as victims who should have known better and define their own sexuality rather than be labeled. Second, we raise our sons to be more sensitive and responsible.

        Both need a lot of faith, will and persistence, no?

        I thought you’d enjoy this documentary by Paromita Vohra on feminism. It reveals a lot of the mindset that tends to place the onus of everything on the woman.

  24. April 19, 2009 7:18 pm

    Whenever such an incident happens there is no point in blaming a victim. Its like saying that since you left your house open, thieves are bound to come. Where is the basic human nature of being moral and good with each other?
    If a person takes advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable position, then the whole idea of blaming the victim sounds ridiculous to me.

  25. May 8, 2009 7:32 pm

    I second Amit’s opinion.

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