A Rape of Personhood
In “Fiftie Godlie and Learned Sermons,” Heinrich Bullinger writes, “Let adulteries … rapes, and incestes bee put to exile.” That was written in 1577. And yet adultery, rape and incest are as much a part of our world as they were in 1577.
On December 16, a 23-year-old female medical student, accompanied by a male friend, got into a private-run bus in Delhi, India. It was 9 p.m., and in the bus were six men, drunk, who began abusing the woman.
She and her friend fought back in vain, and for the next two hours, as the bus drove in the capital of the largest democracy, five men assaulted them, raping the woman and inflicting fatal injuries on her by inserting iron rods into her vagina. The woman died on December 29.
“Women should not go out late at night,” responded Delhi Police Chief Neeraj Kumar. It is assumed that women provoke and men poke.
This regressive and primitive attitude toward rape has a base here in America as well. Two high school football players in Ohio are being prosecuted for the rape of a 16-year-old girl at a party. In a recently leaked video, illicit jokes are made to how dead the girl is by friends of the two accused.
The video is as shocking as Kumar’s attitude. A progressive society apparently does not lead to progressive individual attitudes. Since the existence of the word, “rape” does not connote or denote anything but a forceful act.
“Rape” traces back to the classical Latin word “rapere,” which means “to seize.” The personhood of the victim is seized by a supposed human being, and the blame is laid back on the victim for flaunting his or her personhood.
In the last elections, the former US House Representative, Todd Akin, said that women who are the victims of “legitimate rape” do not often get pregnant. Akin later stated that he “misspoke.”
Everyone is entitled to opine about how a crime ought to be punished. But that is only after everyone recognizes the legitimacy of the crime.
Rape is considered a personal trauma like a death in the family, from which time helps recover.
Perhaps, if Dostoevsky wrote a book titled “Rape and Punishment,” society and the individual parties would consider it a crime.
And even when it is reported, the victim feels forever a victim. The perpetrator seems to have taken advantage of not just physical, but psychological weakness as well.
So it is not a surprise that the crime goes unreported. It may seem easier to move on from a crime that only two people have knowledge of. But it is easier for the victim as well as the perpetrator.
The victim may never recover, but there is solace in knowing that the offender will not move on as easily.
While writing this, I discovered that it may perhaps be a lot more comforting to refrain from defining the person as a victim.
An identity is violated, a personhood seized. But the person is still alive and in the process of living. That’s more than what we can say about the 23-year-old woman in Delhi.
Her name remains anonymous.
Sumeet Singh is a third-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.