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Can rape ever be right?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 10 Jun 2014 12:33 GMT
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Members of the All Assam Photojournalist Association wear black sashes over their mouths at a protest against the rape of a photojournalist by five men in an abandoned textile mill in Mumbai. Picture Guwahati, northeast India, August 24, 2013. REUTERS/Utpal Baruah
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Shocking as it may be, there are men who think rape is OK. There are women, too, who believe it’s the victims who should be blamed for the crime.

Is downplaying rape by debating whether it’s right or wrong or diverting blame from the perpetrator to the victim just a harmless talk shop, or can it have more serious implications? Can it perhaps send potential offenders the false message that “everybody makes mistakes” and that rape can sometimes be an accident caused by the victim and therefore excused?

On Thursday Indian ruling party politician Babulal Gaur declared that rape “sometimes is right, sometimes is wrong”. For Gaur rape is a “social crime” that doesn’t even take place unless reported to police.

A bit like saying a person is not dead unless a death certificate is produced. 

Another politician, Poland’s Janusz Korwin-Mikke, said he didn’t really understand what rape was.

“Raped, what does it mean, raped?” he asked during a television debate in May. "Women are always pretending that they are showing some resistance and this is normal. One has to know when one can and when one can't," he said.

A number of men insist, like Korwin-Mikke, that they are getting confused signals from women; as a result some feel perfectly entitled to have sex with them without making sure this is what they want.

A Guardian article described a man accused by a woman of raping her. He had had sex with her while she was asleep and had felt for some time previously that she was giving him the strong impression that she wanted to have sex with him.

However, just as it’s not only women who are victims of rape, it’s not only men who downplay the crime.

A widely publicised gang rape committed on a 23-year-old student in India two years ago prompted a comment from a female Indian party leader, Asha Mirje, accusing rape victims themselves of inviting the crime.

"Rapes take place also because of a woman's clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places," said Mirje.

But is it really relevant what women are wearing, where they are, how they are behaving? In other words, can rape ever be excused because the perpetrator believed the victim “invited” the crime? Or, in Babulal Gaur’s words, can rape ever be “right”?

Another politician, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, clearly disagrees:

"I can't say often enough it doesn't matter what coat she was wearing, whether she drank too much, whether it was in the back of a car, in her room, on the street, it does not matter. It does not matter if she initially said yes and changed her mind and said no. No means no, wherever it is stated," Biden said at the launch of a White House report on preventing rape and sexual violence in colleges.

It doesn’t matter what the perpetrator’s excuse is: rape means forcibly executed sexual intercourse. Rape means violence.

I was stunned when, during research for this blog, I typed “rape victims” and Google’s only auto-complete suggestion was “rape victims crime scene photos.”

The sad reality is not only that some people say they don’t know what rape is and others think the victims are to blame. Or that somebody would feed their sick curiosity by looking at pictures from rape crime scenes.

What is perhaps more alarming is that there are people who trivialise rape, who do not see as it really is: a serious crime which should not be played down under any circumstances.

As Biden said: "No man has a right under any circumstance other than self defense, no man has a right ever to raise his hand to a woman, period, end of story. It is assault, if they do".

Polish prosecutors are investigating whether Korwin-Mikke’s comments warrant prosecution for incitement to rape, and rightly so.

Maybe if more people think before they speak and stop playing down the fact that rape is a serious crime, then perhaps others will start understanding the consequences of their behaviour and stop before it’s too late.

There is no room for debating whether rape can be right or wrong. It is an act of violence and it’s always wrong. 

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