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Sarah Honan with Elaine Replogle / WNN Interviews
(WNN) Waterford, IRELAND, WESTERN EUROPE: Two women leave their homes to spend time with friends. One goes with her friend to see a new movie that has just been released called “Life of Pi.” The other woman goes to a local and well-loved gathering place called the Tin Roof bar. These are two very different women; two students on two different nights in two different years; living on two distinctly separate continents.
But what do these two women share in common? On these two nights, nights like any others, these women were brutalized, violated and gang raped by men.
Delhi, India, Asia
On the night of December 26th, 2012 Jyoti Singh Pandey and Awirnda Pratep Pandey are making their way home from the movies when they board an off-duty charter bus they are told is going in their direction. There are six men on the bus, including the driver.
When the bus veers off course and the doors are shut the male and female friends question the driver. They are greeted with taunts and interrogation for being an unmarried couple out so late.
Pratep Pandey is beaten, gagged and knocked unconscious as his friend Jyoti Singh Pandey is dragged to the back of the bus.
Fearlessly Jyoti fights her assailants as they viciously rape, strike and penetrate her with an iron rod. Like trash on a highway the pair are thrown from the bus when the assault is over. Along with countless bite marks and livid bruising, the twenty-three year old woman medical student suffers massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines as a result of being raped with an iron rod.
Thirteen days after her attack Jyoti Singh Pandey died from her injuries.
Prior to her death she gave the police a detailed account of what had happened.
All six assailants–Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and an unidentified minor–were arrested and tried in court. All were sentenced to death except the minor assailant who raped Jyoti, who received a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility.
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., Americas
On the night of June 23rd, 2013 a woman who we will call Jane, a student entering her senior year in Vanderbilt University, goes to a popular local hang-out for college students, the Tin Roof Bar, with some female friends.
Here Jane meets Brandon Vandenburg, a football player who she had known and been dating for about two weeks.
He buys her three drinks. Then he buys her a fourth, a blue one which she sips. This is the last moment she remembers of the night.
At 2:30 a.m. Jane is passed out in her car outside Vandenburg’s college dormatory building.
Vandenburg enlists the help of his friends Cory Batey, Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie to carry Jane’s lifeless unconcious body inside.
It was there Vandenburg’s roommate Mack Prioleau is asleep but wakes from his top bunk bed hearing voices. He looks down from his bed seeing Jane on the floor and the staging for Jane’s rape begins. Not knowing what to do Mack turns his head and tries to go back to sleep. But after multiple rapes occur he leaves the dorm room without calling or notifying the police.
When the police contact Jane three days later she denies that Vandenburg had done anything wrong. But soon she learns what really happened to her that night.
Revealed in a tortuous court case outlining the details of her multiple sexual assault, Jane learned the outcome of the crimes made against her as Vandenburg and Batey were sentenced to aggravated rape, sexual battery and unlawful photography and videography. To date McKenzie and Banks are still awaiting trial.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice a sexual assault happens in the U.S. every two minutes. Eighty-two percent of all rapists also know their victim, although surprisingly 98 percent of all rapists never spend a day in jail.
Where have men learned that consent is not a necessity? And in these most extreme of cases, that women’s bodies are property to be used and discarded? It seems logical that only men can stop rape and yet it is women who feel the need to protect themselves. When the worst does happen, it’s the women who are questioned as to their role in the assault.
On the stand Jane was asked by defence attorneys about her alcohol intake and whether her prescription medication may have interfered with alcohol. The Delhi defence attorneys in Jyoti Singh Pandey’s case were far more blatant in their victim blaming.
But the question remains: Why do men rape?
“I think in general if you want to get the simplest perspective on it, male[s] use violence to control females and they do it very often and they control those females for sexual reasons. It’s done in every species,” said Biologist Dr. Michael Ghiglieri during a 1996 PBS – Public Broadcasting Service documentary film “No Safe Place: Violence Against Women.”
Speaking to WNN in a recent one-on-one interview, United States Adjunct Professor in Sociology Elaine Replogle, at University of Oregon, shares her views on the cases in India and the U.S., including why she believes educating young men about sexuality and consent from a young age is extra essential.
What fuels gender based violence and how can we begin to turn the tide on the international rape epidemic? This interview seeks to find the answers.
Sarah Honan for WNN – Women News Network: Given the vastly differing cultures in which both of these crimes took place, do you think that we can fairly draw comparisons between the Delhi Rape case of 2012 and the Vanderbilt University rape case of 2013? If so, what comparisons can be drawn from a sociological point of view?
I am going to cautiously say that I think you can. However, I do think the gender norms in India are more rigid. There are stronger expectations for how women behave and stricter penalties for not doing so. I think if you look at cases across many many countries you see that sexual violence can be a form of punishment for women who are somehow out of place, somehow not behaving correctly.
This is classic victim blaming.
So I think that in both cases you see men, particularly in groups which in this case is also a key variable, can be emboldened to commit violence against women because there’s a very good chance they’ll get away with it in both the U.S. and India.
In any kind of mob violence it’s far less likely that any one perpetrator will be identified. Often in cases of mob violence the victim can’t accurately remember particular faces because trauma does things to people. It’s also easier to get other people involved if it seems that everyone’s doing it so there’s certainly a mob mentality to both these cases.
In both cases it struck me that there is a certain degree of premeditation. The Delhi men were out joyriding. I don’t know if that was with the expectation of raping someone, but it certainly seems like a possibility.
And with the Vanderbilt athletes, again it’s hard to prove premeditation. But in the end it was groups of men that worked together to accomplish these rapes.
I’m reflecting on an article I wrote several years ago but I think you can see bystander effect and the impact of reference groups in both these cases. There’s a lot of sociological literature that suggests people don’t intervene in a crime if they think they can’t or they think other people are. In both these cases there is no evidence that they thought other people were intervening. So there’s issues of bystander effect, mob mentality and reference groups going on in these cases. The men in effect are performing for each other.
They are performing a vision of masculinity by committing these acts in front of other men.
WNN: In particular, how would you compare the attitudes shown by the defence attorneys in both cases and would you describe this as a typical response to victims on an international scale?
In John Krakauer’s book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” he spends quite a lot of time talking about our justice system and how it is designed intentionally to be more forgiving of the accused. We do not want to incorrectly identify someone as guilty who might actually be innocent, so the burden of the proof is much much higher for the victim to produce evidence. In both cases the defence attorneys must portray the victim in the most negative light possible in order to secure a not guilty verdict for their client.
Both American and Indian defence attorneys would do the same thing–perhaps with different language–I can’t imagine a contemporary American defence attorney resorting to the same kind of really explicit ugly victim blaming quoted from the Indian attorneys. The American attorneys questioning of her [Jane’s] alcohol intake and her prescription medication could at least be interpreted as an attempt to raise doubt about her habits, subtly getting to place doubt in a jury’s mind about her complete innocence.
We have to remember that when attorneys are trying to secure a not guilty verdict they are not saying that their client is innocent. You can also say that this is rape culture and victim blaming, especially in the case of college athletes, puts them on a pedestal. But that’s a whole different discussion of the oddity of celebrity status of college athletes. That is a very important variable in the Vanderbilt case. People working in the justice system feel it’s better to have this weakness then the weakness flipped in the other direction where we might over identify people rather than under identify.
WNN: Despite the particular brutality of these two cases sexual violence is being recognized as an international epidemic. Rather than viewing these men as the bad apples in a barrel, is the barrel itself rotten? What, in your opinion, are the global cultural attitudes fuelling this wave of gender based violence?
To really answer that question would take a dissertation! There are so many factors to look at. What society are we looking at? What class of people? What era? What political climate? I can only talk about the U.S. climate with any kind of modest knowledge. U.S. data shows that most men don’t rape. The stereotype of who a rapist is very much determines how we interpret the cases of rape.
The Delhi [bus gang] rape, where they [rapists] are strangers, more easily conform to our [Western] image of the rapist. The Vanderbilt case is a little different but actually more consistent with most cases of rape. More often than not women somehow know the men who have raped them.
Psychologist David Lisak has done [research] work on rape for years and according to him a small number of men commit most rapes. They are serial rapists. That’s why it’s worrying when rapists never see the inside of a jail cell or are never even reported, because they will most likely do this again.
The point is that good people, people who in other circumstances strike us as very ordinary, are actually capable of doing something so violent and ugly. So I hesitate to say that the entire barrel is rotten because most men don’t rape, the socialization process seems to be working quite well.
But there’s also the reality that in cultures where rape and premarital sex are completely taboo, India being one of them, it’s more likely that any kind of sexual violence goes unreported which then fuels the silence and implicitly the acceptance of theses crimes and the victim blaming. If a girl gets raped then in some way she was misbehaving.
…I think unwanted sex is certainly used as a punishment for not playing your gender role correctly…
WNN: In both of the U.S. and India rape cases the perpetrators were found, prosecuted and convicted. There is considerable evidence though to show that this is a rarity in sexual assault cases. Why do you think there is such a shroud of silence surrounding gender based violence?
I feel in the last several years there’s been an explosion of talk on this topic; so I don’t feel that I’m [personally] living in a silent place now. But I have to say I’m on a college campus and this is a different environment than most people are living in.
So it’s hard for me to have an accurate read on what people are hearing or not hearing…If you look at old newspaper articles it was always there if women were attacked.
In recent years there’s been a real attempt for women to be very, very vocal about their experiences about PTSD from sexual assault, the incident rate, and especially on campuses about street harassment. There have been many people making inroads to ensure this isn’t a silent topic .
It [sexual assault] is underreported. Some people feel shame. Some people may not want to relive what they just went through. A huge deterrent to reporting is what you have to go through both physically and emotionally to get through a rape case.
I just read in an article this week that the average rape kit [used to preserve DNA evidence under rape] takes 4-6 hours. I had no idea they took that long, but knew they were very thorough. Of course in the U.S. there’s an enormous backlog of untested rape kits. So a woman who is violated has to consider all these factors before she decides, “Do I even want to say anything?” Psychologically for some people it may be easier to say, “I’m going to pretend this didn’t happen and move on.”
Whether or not that is a wise choice in the long run is debatable.
WNN: For fear of being simplistic, whose problem is this to fix? While women in the past century have accomplished so much for themselves it seems unreasonable to describe rape against women as a ‘women’s only issue.’ Surely only men can put an end to this kind of Gender Based Violence (GBV)?
Men have to take this on as an issue that is their issue.
But the real question is, “How do you encourage participation in these kind of groups?” and “Where and when should this education start and at what age?”
Personally I think the younger the better. I have two sons, my youngest is ten, but it’s not like I’m sitting around having a conversation with him about rape.
WNN: In your opinion, what steps could the global society take to end sexual violence? With young men learning their sexual expectations of women from the media and online how can we combat these pervasive sources to educate young men in a positive way?
I can only tell you what I’ve done for my older son and this is very personal. I don’t have any study on it. There’s a program called Our Whole Lives (OWL) that was created by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a 30 week sex-education course for kids from 7th to 9th grade. The curriculum is very comprehensive. They educate about different types of sex, birth control, along with descriptions of feelings and [topics in] understanding different sexual orientations, including LGBTs.
Consent is a huge part of the course, along with [the topics to help in the understanding of] sexual violence. OWL also addresses in the curriculum some drug and alcohol issues and how that can affect consent.
These kids [who are part of the course] come out realizing that sexuality is [just] part of being a human being, and that it has to be integrated with other aspects of life. They learn that there’s another way to think about sex rather than just mechanics or how to prevent unwanted pregnancies or STDs.
The kids always say, “Oh my god, I don’t want to do this!” at the beginning. But by the second or third week they can’t wait to go to their [once a week] classes because it’s interesting and it’s addressing questions they really have.
It would be great if other churches would take on projects where sex wasn’t talked about in a moral or religious realm, but in a way that recognizes sex as being [the normal] part of being a human being.
OWL is very different then what most people get in terms of any kind of [basic] sex-ed curriculum in [U.S. public] schools… It would be good if [all] schools attempted to approach the subject. Schools would be the logical place to make sure kids understood what consent is.
Even if kids did nothing else but spend time talking about consent to flesh-out what consent means, along with all the variables under which someone cannot be considered able to consent, that would be extremely helpful in educating young men and women.
As India struggles to stop a rising gang rape epidemic, violent rapes and sex attacks in the region have shocked the world. But the reaction of India’s authorities has proved to be just as shocking. This report asks if India’s balance of justice has started listening yet to the victims, or even if it could have gone too far. “I was mocked by the police”, says now deceased activist and women’s advocate Suzette Jordan, who after being gang raped at gunpoint in India found little to no aid or protection from the Kolkata police. Accused of “being a prostitute” by a Cabinet Minister, Jordan’s case highlights the constant injustice in response to rape from within the Indian government and police. Through a policy to arrest anyone accused of a crime, whether they are guilty or not, another problem has surfaced. In spite of this issues of politics and victim blaming for women rape survivors in the region force numerous women survivors to continue to speak out as loud as possible against injustice. This report asks where the balance of justice needs to be placed within India’s endemic culture of violent rape.
For more information on this topic:
- “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” The White House Council on Women and Girls, January 2014;
- “What Men Can Do To Stop Rape: Information Sheet,” Creating Cultures Free From Violence / Men Can Stop Rape, August 2013;
- “Overview of the worldwide best practices for rape prevention and for assisting women victims of rape,” European Parliament Directorate General for Internal Policies | Gender Equality, August 2014.
Completing a Masters Degree in Theological Studies at Harvard University in 1994, Elaine Replogle received a Doctorate in Sociology from Rutgers University in 2005. She currently teaches the Sociology of Mental Health, Sociology of Health and Medicine, and Social Inequality at the University of Oregon. In 2011 she published “Reference Groups, Mob Mentality, and Bystander Intervention: A Sociological Analysis of the Lara Logan Case” in the journal Sociological Forum. More recently Replogle’s work can be seen online on the publications Women Under Siege and Role Reboot. You can LINK HERE to follow Replogle on Twitter.
As a self-taught artist and writer from Waterford, Ireland WNN Social Media and Journalistic Outreach Intern Sarah Honan is dedicated to improving the lives of women throughout the globe. Her debut art exhibit, Blink. focuses on drawing attention to the growing list of American ‘Jane Does’ who have died under dubious circumstances as they became “Women with No Names.” Her work on the project attracted international attention. Over the course of a year BLINK. has now been viewed tens of thousands of times in over 125 countries. Working predominantly on issues of gender identity and the representation of women in the media Sarah combines artistic illustration with the written word to make impact. Through her work she hopes to encourage women in six different global regions to engage openly in a dialogue concerning gender inequalities in modern society.
Recognized by UNESCO for ‘Professional Journalistic Standards and Code of Ethics” WNN began in 2005 as a solo blogger’s project. Today it brings news stories on women from 5+ global regions to the attention of international ‘change-makers’ including the United Nations and over 600 NGO affiliates and United Nations agencies.
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