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Karnataka HC’s Remarks Beg The Question How Should Women ‘Ideally’ Behave To Prove Rape?

Posted: June 26, 2020

Karnataka HC judge’s observation makes you wonder if there are set codes on how women should behave when subjected to any kind of sexual assault.

What should a woman do, feel or say when she is subjected to rape? There are far too many codes with which the society labels a woman. Some even dictate how one ‘should’ behave when being sexually assaulted.

Rape is a harrowing experience and therefore, what should an Indian woman do in reaction to it? Should she throw a violent fit or suffer in silence? Or should she pretend to enjoy it? Should she express pain?

Karnataka High Court granted pre-arrest bail to a man accused of rape and criminal intimidation on Wednesday. This decision followed an observation made by the judge that “after perpetration of the act, the woman fell asleep, and this is unbecoming of an Indian woman; that is not the way our women react when they are ravished.”

Yet again, it was the victim who was blamed

He also noted that the woman failed to give proper explanation as to why she was in her office at 11 pm and why she did not object to having drinks with the accused. Moreover, it was observed that she did not report the crime.

The woman said, she was subjected to rape on the false promise of marriage, which according to the court was difficult to believe. At the same time, a report by The Wire says, there, allegedly is a letter written by the complainant that says she is ready to withdraw her complaint if a compromise is brought about.

The report in The Wire also says that the woman had employed services of the petitioner for the last two years and nowhere is it stated as to why she didn’t complain when the man was forcing her for sexual favours.

This is yet another case where the victim is being blamed for have ‘sexual relations’ with the man who promised to marry her. In a country like in India, where a woman’s virginity is looked at as her most ‘prized possession,’ having sex before marriage is still looked down upon.

Whether a woman chooses to have sex before or after marriage is her own decision, however, if she is forced to have sex with the promise of marriage, she is still the one who’s blamed. They are often asked, ‘Why didn’t you wait?’ To prove a man’s intentions in such a case are often difficult and they manage to go free while the women are left to suffer.

A report by the BBC in April 2019, looked at this in depth. According to the report, in 2016, the Bombay High Court said that an ‘educated adult woman who had consensual sexual relationship cannot later allege rape when the relationship sours.’ Because that’s what we need!

Often, victims are made to feel guilty for a number of things in cases like these. Right from her relationship with the accused to her marital status and even her virginity. These don’t just help the accused get bail but also might negatively impact the case.

Is there really an ‘ideal’ survivor?

This incident raises a few concerns about the perception of women and the “ideal female rape survivor” who deserves to get justice. It also perpetuates victim blaming, yet again. In this case as to how the woman was tired and fell asleep. I think it is necessary to take this discussion beyond the legal system and ask ourselves what values govern the system.

The assumption that a woman who has just been violated should be able to process her emotions and react in a taught, formulated way is widespread. This has to do with many factors, mainly including the kind of visual media we consume. We are repeatedly presented the image of the victimised woman as stripped of all dignity and ‘ruined’ for life.

And her reaction to being assaulted is also shown to reflect her feelings of horror and shock. Even though this is the accepted response to rape, it really is not the reality surrounding it. Survivors can have a wide range of immediate responses to the trauma they are forced into, because not every woman fits this mould.

Many women do not want to be seen as victims and feel safe denying what had just happened to them. And many others have to go through months and years to even process their experience as sexual assault.

One integral part of rape culture is the active shaming of survivors who do not exhibit behaviours of a ‘classic’ victim. This adds more stress to their lives and makes it more difficult to ever bring accusations of rape to light.

The image of an ideal rape survivor is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the toxicity of victim-blaming. Every time rape accusations are denied on these grounds, we are invalidating the subjectivity of the experience of each survivor.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie No-one Killed Jessica

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