I have a confession to make. While following coverage of the horrific gang rape and murder in Delhi, which included shocking statistics showing this was part of a wider culture (a rape reported on average every 18 hours; reported rape cases rose nearly 17% between 2007 and 2011; between December 16 and January 4, 2012, of the 501 harassments and 64 rapes reported, only four were followed up by the Delhi police), I allowed myself to feel a tiny bit smug. A tiny bit superior.
When I read that one of the assailant’s lawyers, Manohar Lal Sharma, said the victims were responsible for the assault because they shouldn’t have been on the streets at night as an unmarried couple, and that he had not seen ‘a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady’, that ‘even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect’, I allowed my smugness to grow. ‘Thank God,’ I thought, ‘we’re more enlightened in this country. Thank God we have a more effective legal system and a society that has progressed beyond such thinking.’
How humbling, then, how disillusioning to read comments like Mark Williams’ Tweet about the brutal rape in Walthamstow:
‘The story about the 12yr girl being raped in London in early hours of Sunday morning is horrific. But what was she doing out at that time?’
Should we look into the victim’s family background to ascertain whether she was also the victim of neglect? Yes. Should politicians take this as a cue to look at the area itself and examine underlying socioeconomic problems? Absolutely. Is that the police’s top priority when investigating the crime of rape, or the media’s when reporting it? No. Categorically not.