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The Way Media Depicts Sexual Assault Survivors Further Perpetuates Rape Culture

Media's depiction of rape survivors as helpless, tormented women perpetuates rape culture by showing predators that women cannot fight back.

We have given her the name Nirbhaya– the name that means brave, fearless, and with indomitable spirit.

But almost all the news portals, whether audio-visual or print, while running her story chose to use a caricature–a woman on her knees, pleading with centuries of female oppression and culturally induced subjugation, shrieking while several pairs of hands approach her threateningly.

Another variation of the same included a girl cornered in a room with tears running down and knees clasped close to her chest while shadows of men are barring her view of the light.

Yet another caricature depicted a girl desperately trying to hide her chest either by her hands or holding on to her dupatta. A similar projection is shown in the movies and serials depicting the rape scenes on screens.

In a country like ours, where rape has been culturally normalised as a punishment to the woman who dares to raise her voice of defiance against the patriarchal and societal norms, such caricatures reinforce the idea positively.

The name Nirbhaya loses all its meaning because a vast majority, including her rapists, hardly read the survival story of strength. The visual cue is enough to reinforce their belief that they haven’t done something that is abnormal or culturally condemned.

Also it adds to the sadomasochistic pleasure of depraved men who then get an opportunity for victim blaming and shaming and normalise the heinous crime in the purview of human rights.

The popularity of rape and child sexual abuse scenes on pornographic sites have been a standing testimony to this gendered conditioning of sadomasochism since decades. Yet, despite trying to project our condemnation on such crimes, people tend to view and read these factual and alarming reports as some erotica.

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This is why women who physically retaliate to sexual assault are punished more severely

Also, owing to this conditioning when a woman retaliates against an attempted rape instead of surrendering as depicted in the above caricatures, the shock of retaliation is too much for the sadomasochism of these criminals to handle and they go on to harm their victim fatally.

Their psyches, over centuries, have never been trained to accept such a response and the exposure to mass media is only reinforcing the preset notions in this regard with such images on display.

Soon after the hanging of Nirbhaya Rape Case culprits (a case that received mixed responses from around the country despite the brutality of the act), the country saw a similar brutality in the multiple rape cases that were reported back to back and which included the rapes of minors and teenagers.

A defeat in one of the country’s most sought after sport’s event, a star sportsperson’s young child reportedly received rape threats without a tinge of fear on the declaration. In such a scenario it is hard to think of why most Human Right Activists still try to condemn Capital Punishment as not being a part of the solution.

One is forced to think what is it that is preventing some to have an unanimous opinion about the severity of the crime? Why is it that even after condemning this brutal incident, no one could secure a safer environment for women in the last many years and rape cases and murders are ever on increase?

Had it not been a more apt correlation if the name Nirbhaya would have been accompanied with a caricature of a woman with clenched fists, adorning an expression of a war cry instead of a shriek, and the darkened shadows of men in retreat?

Is it not a better representation where instead of an image of blood getting drained from the befallen body of a woman like she is some fallen angel, an image showing the scratched faces of her perpetrators was published?

Does rape become any less of a crime if the woman fights back?

Do the injuries and trauma suffered by her become any less severe if she is able to scratch and hurt her culprit? Why is it necessary then to depict women as marginalised and underdog to bring their plight home instead of demanding justice simply on the grounds of the brutality and severity of the crime?

And if it is necessary, then why to give her a name glorifying her fearlessness and breaking her damsel in distress image while in the process hiding her identity unlike the faces of her culprits that should have been blackened first and should have been subjected to shame?

Thus, there is an immediate need to change the narrative, caricatures and symbols associated with the crimes against women justifying their need for justice, and empathy only in the case of glorified meek surrender, normalising it in the case of a display of strength and retribution.

Visual cues are one of the most subtle and effective methods of learnt behaviour. It can be used most effectively for the modification of behaviour rather than instructions and appeals to the morality of those whose conscience has already been modelled against it.

Marital rapes, that don’t even come under the purview of crime in India, are also monumental in irrigating the roots of the rape culture.

Imagine teenagers, witnessing rapes of their mother by their father inside the place they have understood to be a safe haven and a temple for everything that is socially approved.

Can such a teenager ever understand the value of consent? Thus, it is not up to the mother only to raise their sons right but it is as much a responsibility of father and other family members too, as visual cues are pivotal in learned behaviour.

Image Credit: A Still from NH10

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About the Author

Dr Nishtha Mishra

I am an internationally published author of the book entitled "The Feminist Shaw" which has been published by Routledge, UK, and the USA. I was born to Professor mother and Doctor father and am married read more...

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