By IAN BETHELL BENNETT
In the wake of the rape of the young medical student in Delhi, India, it would seem that patriarchy has really institutionalised violence against people perceived as weaker, this would include women and children. One of the thoughts that immediately came to mind was the lack of rights the woman suffered. Not only was she raped, the crowd allowed her to be raped and did nothing to stop the attack that would eventually result in her death.
This also brought to mind the heated debate around Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, supporter of former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, when he argued against abortion except in the case of a ‘legitimate’ rape. The statement sparked some outcry. What Mr Akin was saying was that rape was not real. If a woman were to be raped and could not prove it, which is a regular occurrence, then she would not be allowed to have an abortion. Once again, she has been denied the right to decide for herself. The first time she was denied the right to decide over her body was when she was raped and the second time was when the state stepped in and determined that she was not legitimately raped and could not have an abortion.
We have to remember that rape is about power and violence, not sex. Sexual abuse is also about power imbalances. Sexual violence is about inequalities that are stark in patriarchal, postcolonial states where women and children have fewer rights than men, or are seen to have.
In the Bahamas, public opinion around rape seems to be a very glib. Women are responsible for their own rape. It is not surprising then that the country has one of the highest incidences of sexual assaults in the world.
Revisiting India, how can women be so utterly delimited in terms of their rights over their own lives? How can women be so savagely raped in public and no one stop to render assistance? This is not an isolated incident. How is it that in 2012 a man with aspirations to be US senator can argue that a rape is not legitimate?
How often do we deny women rights to protect themselves from unwanted violence and sexual attention? Culturally, women are to expect men to invade their space and be happy with sexual advances. Men are meant to perform this kind of masculinity as it is culturally condoned, and in actuality, celebrated.
The questions must be asked in the case of the India incident, what were those men thinking? How can they willingly destroy a woman without remorse? What was the youngest member of the group thinking and how did he get to be there and to perform such a savage act? What were the members of the public thinking as they stood and watched? Does this mean that human rights are unimportant to us, especially if they relate to women and to children?
We must begin to challenge the silence around sexual violence. Date rape and non-consensual sex are forms of violence. Child molestation and incest are forms of violence. Yet, the culture tacitly accepts these. When these issues are discussed, for example, people will say things like, they only happen in small-island communities, not in Nassau. When challenged to defend their position they agree that it does actually happen a great deal, yet we do not talk about it.
In Delhi, while the law was very slow to react, the public, those who were not present at the time of the rape rose up against it. Law enforcement officials were still dragging their feet until international and national pressure grew to a din that could not so easily be ignored. In the Bahamas a huge number of rapes occur annually, yet we remain silent until they affect us personally.
When sexual crimes involve children, unless they are horribly violent, or ‘unnatural’, especially if a family member or trusted person is involved, we remain silent. The child is lying. Has it occurred to us that we are encouraging more rapes by denying any kind of human rights to those who are sexually assaulted? Worse, when the state determines that a case needs to be thrown out because of poor investigating it makes a strong statement about the importance placed on the sexual violence.
The country’s silence around sexual violence as well as child sexual exploitation, much like the case of the pastor who sexually exploited his young charge shows us that we glibly discuss these issues but wish they would vanish. By doing this the problem actually worsens.
Certainly, the case in Delhi and the polemics of Akin’s obviously gender-biased interpretation of rape as well as the denial of human rights for women are not isolated. The Bahamas shares these attitudes especially when the court of public opinion and officials when rapes are reported begin by saying that ‘she looked for it’, ‘she encouraged him’. What does this tell us about patriarchy and the rights of others who are perceived as weaker?
Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett, Associate Professor in the School of English Studies at the College of the Bahamas, has written extensively on race and migration in the Bahamas, cultural creolisation and gender issues. Direct questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.