WMC Women Under Siege

10 ways women are criminalized for being brutalized—as seen in a single story

On December 30, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about Lalasa Devi, a woman in her mid-30s who is part of India’s “untouchable” cast. Devi says a man raped her one night nine months ago and that she has seen no justice since.

I’ve rarely read a case that speaks as clearly as this one does to why women don’t report rape—or why, if they do, the process toward justice is so demoralizing many women wish they’d never come forward.

Here then from the story are 10 statements that, from what I’ve seen, are par for the course when it comes to women reporting rape around the world:

  1. Self-blaming: “I'm dying of shame,” Devi said. “All I had was my honor…you lose that, you have nothing.”
  2. Dirtying of reputation: “If all this is put on paper, the whole family's reputation will be tarnished,” said a primary school teacher in Devi’s village.
  3. Entitlement to dominate: “It’s the mindset of the dominant castes,” said a rights activist in New Delhi. “To them, raping a Dalit woman is not a sin.”
  4. Lack of police response: Her husband called the police. Nobody came.
  5. Mocking by police: When the couple went to the police station, an officer asked the ages of her teenage children and then said, “Who would rape such an old woman?”
  6. Lack of medical exam: Three days after the alleged attack, Devi was sent to the district hospital for a medical examination. With forensic evidence long washed away, doctors there concluded that “no definite opinion about rape can be given.”
  7. (Potentially intentional) police screw-ups: Police initially registered the case as sexual harassment, not rape.
  8. Implying consent: A lawyer for the defendant argued that the woman was a “consenting party” in any sex act with his client.
  9. Blaming the victim: The defense lawyer said that the fact that Devi left her house after dark “shows consent, doesn't it?”
  10. Ostracizing: Her neighbors laugh and make mean-spirited comments, Devi says, and her children are taunted at school.

There you have it. Ten concrete ways women are criminalized for being brutalized.

Ten concrete acts that show women their bodies are public property, not their own to protect.

Ten concrete statements that show that institutions like police and courts are exhaustingly feral in their thinking, and that their thinking is what blocks the road to justice and change.

With the close of 2013 and the dawn of a new year, here’s to working toward changing each of these inadequacies at all levels of society in 2014.

More articles by Category: International, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Sexualized violence, Trauma, Stigma



Lauren Wolfe
Journalist, former director, WMC Women Under Siege
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