It happens in ‘good families.’ It happens to women, and to men. It happens to children, and to the elderly. It even happens when the woman (or man) has not ‘asked for it.’
There are a lot of misconceptions about rape. A common one is that men rape because it is in their biological nature. This perpetuates the notion that men cannot control themselves sexually, and therefore force themselves on women. This is unfortunate, because it takes away the blame from those who commit the crime.
It is not true either that sexually deprived men rape. This perception serves to excuse sexually aggressive behavior in men. In fact, most men who commit rape have regular sexual partners.
So why do rapists rape? Rape is rarely about sex alone. It is about control. It is about anger. It is about the need to humiliate by domination.
Another common misperception is that rapists are strangers. According to statistics compiled by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a staggering 90% of sexual assaults on women were acquaintance rapes where the perpetrator was known to the survivor.
It is also commonly believed that rape does not happen in ‘good’ Indian families because of our emphasis on family values. In our culture family ‘honour’ is tightly woven with the sexual chastity of the unmarried girl. As a result, some families force marriage between their daughter and her rapist – on the consideration that the rapist has already has had sex with the survivor. In this Bollywood-ised version of justice, the rapist is actually rewarded for his criminal behavior, while the rape survivor is accorded life sentence for the crime of having being raped.
Survivors are often subjected to judgment – if she got raped, she must have done something to deserve it – like being drunk or wearing attention-drawing clothing. This suggests that men can’t (and shouldn’t have to) control their sexual appetite. By holding survivor responsible for the rape, blame is taken from the criminal behavior of the rapist, and placed it on the survivor. The truth is, women can be completely non-provocative and still be raped.
Rape survivors often suffer from symptoms that are similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the syndrome war veterans are often diagnosed with. Physical ailments can range from bladder infections to STDs, headaches, stomach aches to pelvic inflammation. The emotional impact could be depression, low self esteem, negative body image, anxiety, guilt, shame.
Sexually, survivors can display a range of coping mechanisms – from rejection of intimacy to promiscuousness. Promiscuousness can give some survivors the illusion of control in the sense they choose to have sex, sex is not forced on them.
Some survivors feel they do not have a right to feel traumatized because they did not fight back enough. Rape is traumatic, period. A woman has to do whatever she can to survive the assault.
A rape survivor will need help and support to heal. You can help by acknowledging the rape. Ignoring or denying it sends a message to the survivor that she has something to be ashamed of. The survivor did not choose the rape, and she does not deserve the shame. Allow the survivor to express her feelings. Listen and be non-judgmental. If she chooses not to talk about it respect that, as well.
The first principle of recovery is empowerment – the survivor has to be in charge of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support or assistance, but not the cure. Often, well intentioned loved ones will try to help by doing everything for the survivor. This can actually be damaging to the survivor because she is again (as during the rape) not in control.
Validate the survivor’s feelings. She has a right to feel angry, sad, violated. She needs to know she is not alone in this. Encourage her to seek help through a support group or counseling.
Never blame the survivor, no matter what the circumstance. The survivor may blame herself because rape is about a lack of control. Blaming herself is one way the survivor attempts to take back control. She might express anger at the people closest to her because she needs a safe outlet for her anger.
Don’t prescribe a time limit for the healing. Some women make fast recoveries. For others, effects can last a lifetime. Some women seek help right away – others block memories of the assault for years until they feel secure enough to process the rape.
Rasana Atreya is a former rape crisis counselor, and is indebted to BAWAR for facts in this article. She is also the author of ‘Tell A Thousand Lies,’ an Amazon bestseller in Eastern drama.