In February 2012, Suzette Jordan, a 38-year-old single mother of two girls, left a well-known nightclub in a busy street in Kolkata with a man who she had befriended. In the car, three other men were waiting. That night, she had said, she was held down by the men and gang-raped. The next morning, she was thrown out of the car.
Sixteen months and a lot of political turmoil later, Jordan had told reporters that she is tired of being called the ‘Park Street rape victim’. “I am tired of hiding my real identity. I am tired of this society’s rules and regulations. I am tired of being made to feel ashamed. I am tired of feeling scared because I have been raped,” she told reporters.
Cut to 2020. Just two days ago, the Karnataka High Court, while granting a pre-arrest bail to a man accused of rape, cheating and criminal intimidation, noted that it was “unbecoming of an Indian woman” to sleep after she is “ravished”.
“The explanation offered by the complainant that after the perpetration of the act she was tired and fell asleep, is unbecoming of an Indian woman; that is not the way our women react when they are ravished,” held Justice Krishna S Dixit.
The judge added the complainant could not explain why she went to office at 11 in the night, drank with the accused and also allowed the accused to stay the night with her.
Agreeing that the charges of rape, cheating and intimidation against the petitioner were serious in nature, the court observed that “seriousness alone is not the criteria to deny liberty to the citizen when there is no prima facie case from the police.”
Jordan died in 2015 amid the battle to get justice. But the one thing she left behind was her powerful words, “Enough is enough”. She was not going to be ashamed for drinking, for partying, for wanting to have a good time with a stranger she met at a night club.
READ: ‘Slept? Not How Indian Women React After Sexual Abuse’: Karnataka HC Grants Bail to Rape Accused
The court observation may have have been triggering for many and most of them would have quietly gone on to the read the next news item, reminding themselves, “This is why I never reported my rape story.”
But among the ones who took to social media to express their anger, a tweet read, “I’m an Indian woman & I was raped during a vacation. I continued with my vacation and had fun. But I did not report because of fear of such sickening comments.”
Over the years, we have heard various defence against rape. “Boys will be boys… they make mistakes,”Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts”, “One should not be adventurous being a woman” are just some of those.
But this bizarre understanding of rape and what constitutes it is not limited to India.
In an article on Harvey Weinstein’s course case, an article in Atlantic noted, “Usually, the victim never sees a courtroom. Police tend to pursue only cases involving a “righteous victim”—for example, a woman raped by a stranger with a gun, in an alley, who fought back, who had a clean record, and who had no alcohol in her system. That is a “real rape,” worthy of investigation. But 80 percent of the time, the victim knows her assailant. Prosecutors avoid those cases, even if they believe the woman, anticipating that a jury will not.”
The “he said, she said” conundrum is pretty much how rape cases are fought and concluded in across the world. It’s funny and tragic (at the same time) that even a global movement #MeToo movement did not manage to make the judiciary and the system understand the issue of consent.
How does a woman prove she resisted if she doesn’t have the marks of bruises and injuries? How does she prove that even if she drank alcohol she wasn’t giving consent to her sexual assaulter? How does she prove that it’s not remorse of consenting to sex and later regretting? How does she prove that it was fear that forced her to behave ‘normally’?
In the Weinstein case, at least one alleged victim told The New York Times that she opted not to come forward, because her lawyer warned her that Weinstein would hire investigators to dig through her past.
Weinstein’s defense attorney, Donna Rotunno, spelled out the modern-day equivalent of the chastity requirement, “If you don’t want to be a victim, don’t go to the hotel room.”
A woman who goes to a man’s hotel room, a woman who befriends a stranger, a woman who drinks, a woman who wears short clothes, a woman who didn’t physically fight her abuser is not seen as a woman who can be raped.
Underlining its dismal reputation as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, in 2018, one woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India, according to the annual crime report released by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Only 27% of these led to convictions.
But, these are just reported cases.
In India, an estimated 99.1% of sexual violence cases are not reported, and in most such instances, the perpetrator is the husband of the victim. Data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16 show that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others.
So, what do you think these women do when their husbands forget about consent because after, all they are ‘married’? They go back to sleep, they go back to making tea for their husbands the next morning, they go back to their usual routine of taking care of their household and their jobs, they go back to their lives as if everything is ‘normal’.
There’s more to this. The persistent stereotype of ‘real rape’ involves a male stranger who violently penetrates a woman who will resist and fight and probably pick a flower vase to hit the assaulter’s head. However, this isn’t the reality. Sexual assault can be in so many forms that when it doesn’t match up to the ‘violent’ narrative, forget judges, it can make it difficult for survivors to recognise that it was, and still is, sexual assault.
It is important to note what exactly is unbecoming though. To sleep after being raped and often while being raped or is ‘unbecoming’ to rape?
In Ireland, a woman was raped and sexually assaulted by her then boyfriend multiple times while she was asleep. She was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and had to quit her job. Seven years into her marriage, Mandy Boardman one day woke up with a dissolving pill in her mouth. She had no recollection of taking a pill and was very confused. Another night she woke up with her clothes off. One day, when she looked through her husband’s phone, she found out videos that her husband took. In a heartbreaking account, she narrates that he would drug and then rape her. During the trial, the judge had asked her to ‘forgive’ her husband.
While our conversations have moved to men and women equality for a while and even if little changes happened in the society, the law, it seems, across the world, has a lot of catching up to do.