When sexual violence finds moral justification

Let me first make it amply clear that there is no excuse for rape and victim blaming is deplorable. In my world, a woman should be able to walk naked at 12 in the night and none of us have the right to look at her in the wrong way let alone inflict violence on her. Having said that, an offender’s perception of women needs to be understood to ensure we can prevent the creation of more such offenders. Essentially, this post is an attempt to understand a sub sect of gender violence i.e., the “slut” culture, its roots and how to address it.

I have for some time now been keenly interested in exploring the possibility of applying the concept of profiling to law enforcement mechanisms in the country, particularly around sex crimes. In this connection, the case of the Rochdale sex trafficking gang, while being terribly disturbing, is perhaps important for this discussion. The crime involving men of Pakistani and Afghanistani origin inflicting rape and sexual assault upon teenage girls of caucasian ethnicity, raised the question as to how asian cultures view women of the western world with contempt. Some argued that this was not a topic of race as much as it is a topic of gender. I believe it is gender oriented violence which finds justification in the form of racial stereotypes.

What this case tells us is that we see now a brand of sex crimes that are motivated by group dynamics, i.e., men belonging to a particular socio/economic profile channeling their misogyny towards girls belonging to a different socio/economic profile. Women with their own socio/economic group will not invite this misogyny, but women from different groups might. As asian cultures, I am afraid this is also a factor to the rape epidemic and as much as we object to this classification as being racist, I believe we need to have this debate.

I could explain this discriminatory misogyny in one of many ways. It could be that these men basically just hate women, but fearing community backlash might channel that towards women who do not belong to their community. In many conversations I have had with auto drivers in Bangalore, I often see a disturbing trend where they suggest that “modern” and “fast” girls need to be taught a lesson in decency and morality. The ideal for them is women in their own world who live lives of quite desperation and suppression. Having already ‘conquered’ women in their own contexts by battering them into submission, the notion of an independent woman who dresses and lives life the way she wants to becomes entirely unacceptable. So essentially these guys just hate to see women as autonomous human beings. Her attire is a representation of that autonomy and their morals don’t permit it. When one group of women have secured this autonomy, they are typically from an enlightened and well to do socio/economic background. For an offender of this type, such women are easy to hate because the offender’s brand of morality finds such women deplorable and guilty of “sluttish” behaviour automatically warranting “punishment” or alternately exploitation.

The asians in the Rochdale sex gang case had essentially taken this attitude to the west with them. Now I ask myself, why this trend here? I can only assume that all men are inherently drawn to crime but these banal instincts are tempered down by social conditioning. However when religion and culture prescribe and validate certain lifestyles while condemning others, the underlining intolerance leads to a sense of justified misogyny in the name of advancing the right morals. Wearing a salwar kameez is part of our culture. All the religious figurehead say it. Per contra, a spaghetti or a tank top is immoral. So then the offender thinks, “Let us teach the spaghetti or tank top wearing slut a lesson” and by the time he is prosecuted, a victim and an offender is already born and we are too late.

Having perhaps identified the issue, let us look at solution. In this connection, the Muslim Council of Britain has set a fine example by first acknowledging the existence of this rot in our thinking and secondly has chalked out a clear agenda to address the issue and participate in the fight against sexual violence and exploitation. More and more dialogues are being initiated by groups such as the Muslim Council and I believe it is the most sensible thing to do. We need to start infusing sensitivity and tolerance through greater dialogue and inter community interactions. Essentially the need is to humanize women in the eyes of the entire population by taking away their perceived role as brand ambassadors for virtues and morality and by simply acknowledging their existence as human beings with needs and autonomies similar to ours. That requires thought leadership and for all of us in that sphere of activity, this is an invitation to take up that mantle.

The solutions are a larger debate which requires another article in itself. But I am keen to understand if I am right in having identified a certain pattern to crimes against women. Because if we identify a pattern, we can then diagnose the cause and set it right. I await inputs!

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