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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cities of Rape

cities of rape
by Douglas Messerli
One might easily argue, unfortunately, that rape occurs in every country and all times. But 2013 has brought about something seemingly quite different: a series of deadly gang rapes in which women and even children have been killed in primarily three quite different regions of the world: India, Egypt, and Brazil.

      The terrible Indian rapes began in December 2012, with a sexual assault and death of a young physiotherapy student in New Delhi, from which doctors removed various foreign objects embedded in her genitals, including pieces of candles and a small bottle. After that vicious act, several others were reported, the most terrifying of which the a 6-year old girl, raped and left with a slit throat in a public toilet in Delhi reported on April 27. Soon after, a 30- year-old American woman reported being raped in a northern resort town. On March 15, a group of men raped a Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh, also attacking her husband. A British tourist leaped from her hotel balcony in fear that the hotel owner was about to assault her. These all seem less sexually oriented than simply representing a hate of the opposite sex with the aim of hurting and destroying their victims.

      There is a long tradition in India of gender separation, a male mindset of women’s absolute inferiority. Sexual violence appears at regular intervals reported in the daily newspapers every week: a 16-year old was raped by her father, a rickshaw-puller raped his 10 year-old daughter, a 19 year-old boy raped a mentally disabled 12 year-old girl, etc. But the new “gang rapes” suggest an escalation that cannot easily be defined. In part, obviously, the growing economy of India, in which women have had a large role, has something to do with this outrageous expression of hate. Women, many of whom have grown more and more Western in their dress and behavior, may also provoke, in some men, a sense of diminishing stature. But the packs of male violators cannot be so easily explained. In part, it may simply have to do with the fact that, until recently, the state and police have done little in response. The government of India has recently strengthened the law to be able to deal more effectively with these offences, but until there is a broader cultural change, women and, in particular, female children feel vulnerable even walking to and from school. An article on CNN recently cited The Asian Centre for Human Rights report that from 2001 to 2011 child rape cases in India jumped from 2,113 to 7, 132, an astounding leap of violent behavior, which effects young girls’ education, as families keep their daughters from attending school simply to protect them, a practice with also often results in early arranged marriages.
In this undated image made from video released by the producers of "Awel el Kheit," or "the Thread," Waleed Hammad walks in a busy shopping district in Cairo, Egypt, dressed as a woman, as a hidden camera crew films him for an investigative story on sexual harassment.
      Similarly, in Cairo—particularly since the Egyptian revolution—women have been attacked and sexually assaulted, even in Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square, where Yasmine Faihti was raped. Women simply walking down Cairo’s streets are followed, stalked, and hounded, with men putting lemons in their pockets and rubbing up again women in buses and other crowded spaces. Taxi drivers often expose themselves to women riders. Other men grab women’s breasts as they walk by in the crowded streets. Increasingly men have joined together to attack, each grabbing various pieces of clothing and luring their victims into dark streets. There were 19 reported attacks on January 25th alone, and many such attacks go unreported.

      Things have gotten so bad that, in one instance, a handsome male reporter dressed as a women and was terrified as he was followed and stalked by several males as he made his way around the city. Morsi’s government, meanwhile, has mostly remained silent about the increasing violations.

      Here, one might assert, some of the incidents simply have to do with the fact that previously highly covered up and burka-clothed woman have felt freer to dress in the Western style. But that is like blaming the women for the attacks they suffer. Cultural attitudes toward women here also play a big part in these assaults. But with no government response, it appears that the fear and suffering felt by Eygpt’s women will not soon disappear.

       Just as frightening is the large increase of rapes in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro which have almost doubled from 2006 to 2012. In a bus a 30-year old woman was raped in front of passengers as it moved down a major avenue. A 14-year-old girl was raped on one of Rio’s most noted beaches. Another woman was raped in a transit van as it made its way through wealthy neighborhoods. An American 21-year-old student was raped in a similar van, while her male companion was beaten.

       In Brazil, such behavior clearly has some of its roots in the vast class differences, where many of that city’s poor live in massive slums, while increasing wealthy middle and upper classes live in heavily guarded homes and apartments. Authorities do little for rape victims in the slums, but the increasing attacks on tourists has brought some public attention, including the establishment of women-only subway cars and increased security in public places. If in each of these countries, reports of such rapes bring with them fear of losing tourist monies, it is even more crucial for the wealthy Brazil to resolve these problems before the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Summer Olympics, both to be held in Rio.

      I cannot truly speculate why rape is growing in these areas at such astounding rates in a time when, for example, in most American cities (with the exception of Chicago and New Orleans) crime has been decreasing. And in a volume which I have titled “Murderers and Angels” it seems important merely to comment on these terrifying shifts in cultural behavior.

      I might add that, increasingly—particularly in Japanese pornography—gang rape in both heterosexual and gay videos—has become a favorite trope. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying, of somewhat mindless, film, A Clockwork Orange.

Los Angeles, June 12, 2013
My reports above were based on articles in The Indian Express, The New York Times, and on CNN.

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