Media Watch The Dialogue On Rape Cases Is Taking A Very Unhealthy Turn

The Dialogue On Rape Cases Is Taking A Very Unhealthy Turn

We have been desensitised and dehumanised to an extent that we do not acknowledge rape for what it is, anymore. We acknowledge rape cases for their associations and repercussions.

Posted by Alolika Dutta

“Rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused.” – Freda Adler

Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar, Brock Turner, Harvey Weinstein, the Kathua and Unnao cases, the Chattisgarh case, James Franco, Louis C.K., the Nirbhaya Case, Kevin Spacey, former US President George H.W. Bush, Jalgaon case, Mathura case, Kandhamal case, Mumbai gang rape, Mathura – do you notice what is common amongst all these?

They have visibility due to one main factor: the accused.

In all the aforementioned rape cases, the victim/survivors are identified either by the name of the accused or by location. I understand the importance of confidentiality here. However, this is also because the accused had a reputation. It is because it was advantageous for the media to publicise these rape cases. It is because these rape cases were worth sensationalising and because the stakes were equivalent to probable gains.

the victim/survivors are identified either by the name of the accused or by location.

Do you see the paradigm here? We have been desensitised and dehumanised to an extent that we do not acknowledge rape for what it is, anymore. We acknowledge it for its associations and repercussions.

Why was there so much outrage regarding the Kathua and Unnao cases? They had political connections and communal reasons. What we cannot ignore is the insensitivity by the press. Rape cannot be made a tool for propagation of political agenda. Yes, we should point out the communal or political aspects of the crime, but we point them out as aspects of the issue, and not the issue in itself. They are components, not the gist.

It is unbelievable that rape does not become a sensitive, widely spoken issue by itself. Instead, we have to produce elements for sensationalism, in order to acknowledge what has been done. We sensationalise, we don’t speak, or empathise, or understand.

Why was there so much outrage about the Anna Chambers rape case? It involved police officers. It involved narcotics detectives who kidnapped, sexually assaulted and raped her. The case caught the limelight only because it was associated with police officials who are customarily viewed as protectors instead of perpetrators.

With police rape, it is even difficult to seek adjudication due to the evident power dynamics at play. There are no reasonable standards of acceptability involved, as to the extent to which consent and bodily autonomy can be infringed upon. Again, we have been desensitised. We don’t demonise mistreatment and rape. We only demonise the designation of the individuals who committed rape, but not the rape in itself.

Also Read: An Open Letter To J.K. Rowling On Casting Johnny Depp As Grindelwald

This does not only stem from internalised misogyny, but also from the monetisation of the crime. It stems from how mercilessly capitalist we are. Why was there an outrage about Andrea Constand? Because Bill Cosby was involved. There was an outrage because a celebrity with a public image was involved. The outrage was not about what Bill Cosby did, it was about who Bill Cosby was.

In all these instances, we see that in order for the victim/survivor to be acknowledged, the accused has to be a public figure. The victim/survivor is brought into the limelight, only as a consequence of the popularity of the rapist.

Moreover, there is a tendency to proclaim that rape accusers intend to gain popularity out of rape accusations. In reality, it is the other way round. If we view publicity as publicity, sans any distinctions of positive and negative, we will realise that only the accused gains publicity out of rape allegations.

Rape survivors are not acknowledged. If we state that victims/survivors do it all for popularity, we are participating in victim blaming, thereby nullifying the rapist’s stake. “She did it for publicity”, is the same as, “She asked for it”, in a different context. It is all promoting ongoing rape culture.

The mainstream discourse about rape is in itself politically incorrect and it promotes rape culture. Even colloquial terminology and slang do the same. We blame the victim/survivor, we trivialise rape, we legitimise men indulging in criminal offences such as rape with the help of conventional gender roles and stereotypes: “Boys will be boys”, “Men do such things. She should have looked out for herself”, sexually explicit jokes, glamorisation of sexual violence, objectification of the female body, inflating false rape report statistics, publicly scrutinizing a victim/survivor’s dress, their mental health, motives, and so on.

Rape cannot be made a tool for propagation of political agenda.

The only cases that are brought to the public eye are the cases that the state finds worth fighting. It is not an important enough issue for what it is. It is important because it is linked to something ‘bigger’. There is no outrage about the act of rape. There is outrage about other constituent factors.

You see, the media can’t function without TRPs and social media virality.

There will be no radical reform as long as we fail to include rape committed by ordinary citizens into public discourse. There will be no radical reform as long as we don’t condemn rape for what it is. There will be no radical reform as long as the dominant community-based context of rape determines justice and outrage.

We have to humanise the press, for which, we have to humanise ourselves. We are all entitled to bodily autonomy, and an infringement of rights is as big an issue when it is committed by a government official as well as when it is committed by an ordinary citizen.

Rape is rape. And it has to be discussed for what it is and our outrage cannot be selective.

Also Read: The Fall Of An Idol: Louis CK And Betrayal

Alolika Dutta is a progressive libertarian who believes in intersectionality. She is an activist academic, and she’s trying to make a change one step at a time. She can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Featured Image Credit: WYPR


  1. Pooja Gupta says:

    Hi Alolika!
    I appreciate you work. Your article was bold and enticing. Keep writing. All the best.

  2. Karthika says:

    This article is quiet disappointing. It has a “all lives matter” angle and failed to accentuate the necessity of “equity” and justice angle when it comes to the victims.

    As far as the publicity is concerned, the media have indeed done a good job in terms of nailing the accused. What you must understand is that in some of the cases, the perps will probably not be caught or held accountable with media pressure.
    Let’s look at Kathua case; the incident took place in January, the protests for the accused, “Hindu ekta Manch” took place in February and until firstpost, TOI and Indianexpress exposed the charge-sheet details there was no outrage or media coverage. Why? Because powerful people were involved and the pressure is there on prosecution side. Even now it is there because both BJP and Congress are involved in pro-rapist rally and talking about it can “earn” you wrath from the RW. Look at what happened with Swara Bhaskar and Amazon.
    Unnao case took place last year and until media pressure, it is obvious that the govt has been protecting the accused. Now the accused have police protection but the victim’s father is killed. How else is the story meant to be covered? The political and communal aspects of the above two cases has to be covered.

    In Nirbhaya case, the conversations related to women’s safety and autonomy happened.
    And you forgot to mention Jisha murder case. The case was reduced to a small section in 3rd page until students protested for her. Police’s lack of seriousness and trampling of crime scene was exposed by the media, because the victim is a Dalit woman in a economically poor background.

    Why should the lack of sensitivity of the media be challenged when they have been challenging the government or authority’s failure? Or when the perp is a powerful individual? I don’t think Kevin Spacey or Harvey weinstein would pay the price without media coverage.

    When it comes to sensitivity I am sure that the last thing the survivor of sexual assault needs is publicity. There shouldn’t be in any of the above cases and the perps should get the necessary penalty. But, when it comes to powerful people, media challenging the same is what works. Look at the actress abduction case in Kerala for example.

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