It’s Been Four Months Since the Dehli Rape Victim’s Death. What Have We Done?

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Back in December, the world was shocked to see the unfolding of one of the most horrific rape cases in recent memory. After boarding a bus in the South Delhi district with a friend at 9:15 p.m., a 23-year-old woman was then, as The Daily Beast reported, “taken at the back of the bus, brutally gang-raped, sodomized and assaulted with an iron rod.” Her internal injuries were so severe – her intestines were even removed while she was being treated – she eventually died several days later.

India’s response was swift. The six men responsible were charged with rape and murder, but that was hardly enough to quell the anger around the death of the woman, a bright medical student with a promising future.  Indians began staging large protests to mourn the woman’s death and demand justice be done.  Men and women both took to the streets, to social media, and sometimes to enforcing their own vigilante justice.  Indian celebrities, politicians, and citizens all voiced their dismay. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it “a heinous crime,” while Bollywood start Amitabh Bachchan asked on his Facebook account, “What is wrong with our society, our people?”

And yet, instead of a cessation in violence against women, more incidents were reported. “A number of cases of violence against women are coming to light in the wake of the Delhi bus gang rape, a phenomenon that women’s groups say shows that local media and police are paying more attention to the problem – not that the incidence of violence is increasing,” the Wall Street Journal reported on January 13.

As outrage continued to swell, the Indian government, as well as private organizations and individuals, began to offer solutions to combat sexual violence. On March 21, India passed a “sweeping bill” dealing with crimes against women.  The law imposes harsher punishments on men, not only for rape and violent crimes, but also for crimes like stalking and voyeurism.  The bill was hailed by women’s right activists, and was considered “a sign that the demands of thousands of protesters were heard,” the New York Times reported.

But the new law is only one piece of the response that the horrific incident has engendered across India. Almost immediately after the crime, the Delhi government opened a 24-hour hotline for women to call in the even of sexual harassment or violence.  According to the Times, the hotline received 2,000 calls in its first 12 hours.  Beyond the government, other groups and organizations are trying to help Indian women avoid and escape these situations.  The Circle of 6 app lets smartphone users allow victims to immediately call for help; Indian engineering students have designed women’s undergarments that can shock an attacker up to 82 times; and private companies like India Inc. are spearheading efforts to provide their female employees with self-defense classes.

As five of the six rapists and murderers stand trial for their crime – one of the men was found dead in prison in March – the world waits with bated breath for resolution. Yet, as we sit, focused on India, are we ignoring the perpetration of the same crime elsewhere?

Though we read daily about the seemingly endless civil war unfolding in Syria – the most recent news says that a car-bomb in central Damascus killed fifteen people – very few reports mention the massive rapes being perpetrated daily against defenseless victims. According to The Atlantic, “Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis,” that seemingly surpasses the problem in India. Journalist Lauren Wolfe writes:

Although most coverage of the Syrian civil war tends to focus on the fighting between the two sides, this war, like most, has a more insidious dimension: rape has been reportedly used widely as a tool of control, intimidation, and humiliation throughout the conflict. And its effects, while not always fatal, are creating a nation of traumatized survivors – everyone from the direct victims of the attacks to their children, who may have witnessed or been otherwise affected by what has been perpetrated on their relatives.

In September 2012, I was at the United Nations when Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide shook up a fluorescent-lit room of bored-looking bureaucrats by saying that what happened during the Bosnian war is “repeating itself right now in Syria.” He was referring to the rape of tens of thousands of women in that country in the 1990s.

The Delhi gang-rape brought global attention to crimes against women, yet even still, despite the passage of India’s new law, despite the measures being taken to avoid more rapes, and despite the international outcry we saw against such crimes, we cannot be lulled into believing that the battle is won. Women’s rights and bodies continue to come under siege every day, and we need to remain vigilant and insist that even if we cannot personally stop these crimes, we can recognize that they are happening, and give voices to the victims who no longer have them.

About Deena Shanker

Deena is a writer living in New York City. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Covering women’s issues, politics, business, food and the environment, she has written for Salon, Fortune.com, Grist, and GOOD. When she isn’t writing, Deena enjoys reading anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, playing with her dog, and eating too much cheese. Deena tweets from @deenashanker.
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