A woman takes a taxi ride home from work. She is raped by the driver. She reports the crime. But there isn’t much in the way of sympathy coming her way – she was stupid, see, to take a taxi at 3.30 AM. And then to hail the first one she saw instead of just calling a radio cab! All to save some money. In a city like Delhi, known to be highly unsafe for women! If you don’t take precautions, well, this is what will happen. You’ll get raped.
This is the dominant narrative after any case of sexual assault against a woman: somehow, it must be her fault. She was probably dressed provocatively. She must’ve been drunk. She was walking alone at night. It is inconceivable that she was in no way responsible for her fate even she was violating all the supposed rules that safeguard women from assault; that she was the victim of a heinous crime against her person. Even if, like in this case, nobody actually comes out and says it, the subtext always, always blames the woman. This isn’t limited to patriarchal institutions like the Delhi Police or the Canadian constable who inspired the ‘slut walks’ across the world – plenty of scared women embrace, unconsciously, the notion that another woman who was a victim of rape must have done something wrong to have that done to her. After all, if none of her actions led to her being raped, then it could happen to anybody – and that is a truly terrifying thought.
The idea that if we’re smart enough or cautious enough we can escape sexual assault leads to a whole lot of well-meaning advice that inadvertently sustains victim-blaming. So you shouldn’t drink too much or accept drinks from strangers, you shouldn’t wear clothes that show too much cleavage or are too short and if you need to go somewhere at night, don’t walk, or take public transport. But these tips can lull a potential victim into a false sense of security, implying that if you do all of those things, you’re not going to get raped – absurd when statistics show that women are most likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know. Tips to stay safe become a cultural meme, where if a victim has violated any of these rules, she was probably asking for it and is just an evil temptress who enticed a man and then revoked consent. Violators of these impossible rules are constantly shamed for failing to take responsibility of their safety.
All of this ignores the fact that a rapist is committing a very deliberate act of violence upon another person; that he is choosing to violate another human being in the most base and despicable manner. It is past time that attention in rape cases was diverted to where it belongs: the rapist. Meaningful rape prevention would target perpetrators, not the victim or potential victims, even if that scary because it implies that women have little control over their fate. And in Delhi, the rape capital of the country, the least law enforcement can do is put the blame where it belongs, and stop suggesting that it was a failing on the part of the victim that she was raped.