Culture of denial

After gang rape, blame falls on 11-year-old victim

A police vehicle carrying men accused of raping an 11-year-old girl came under attack this month in Chennai, India. (P. Ravikumar/Reuters)

Outrage spread throughout Chennai, India, last week after it was reported that an 11-year-old girl was repeatedly raped over months by an elevator attendant and workers in her apartment building. But now the attitude appears to be shifting, with blame laid on the girl’s mother and even the girl herself.

Seventeen men were arrested after it was discovered that the young girl was being abused—often drugged after school and taken to secluded areas in her own apartment building, where the apartment complex’s security guards, plumbers, and electricians would rape and molest her. According to the girl’s older sister, the men had told her, “If you tell your mother, we will kill her.” The girl’s older sister was the one to discover the truth and her parents immediately went to the police. The men ranged in age from 23 to 66, and during a court appearance last week, they were kicked and beaten by lawyers in a local courthouse, signaling the city’s disgust over their action.

But in a country where around 99 percent of sexual assaults are never reported, shortly after the arrests a perceptible shift in attitude began, according to a report in the New York Times, with people in Chennai blaming her parents’ lack of care, and incorrectly saying the girl, who “wears hearing aids and acted younger than her age” was “deaf and dumb.” As has happened in other cases, outrage was short-lived and denial about the prevalence of sexual assault kicked in, along with rationalizations of the crime.

In a system plagued with corruption, girls and women are often blamed—if they somehow do speak up about sexual assault, they are often asked if they have a sexual history. If the answer is yes, the conviction rate plummets, writes the Times.

In response to high-profile cases in recent years, the Indian government did create a “fast-track court” for rape cases and brutal sex crimes can also now be prosecuted by capital punishment. But that does little to change the dominant regressive attitudes—if women don’t feel justice will be served, will they speak up?

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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