Victim Blaming: India's Daughter and Closer to Home

Vickie Belcher is a sophomore Economics and Anthropology major at the University of South Carolina who has volunteered with STSM since September. Her favorite part about volunteering with STSM is seeing how the agency works to directly help survivors and make a difference in the greater Columbia area through educational outreach. 

In the past two weeks, the internet has been filled with responses to the release of the documentary film India’s Daughter on the BBC network. The film, which is featured as part of a series called “Storyville” was directed by Leslee Udwin and it showcases the story and national response to the gang-rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh. This horrific crime took place in 2012 on a moving bus and sparked major protests across India; these protests showed the spirit and dedication of those individuals seeking change. The Delhi police issued a restraining order that resulted in a nationwide ban against showing the film in India at the risk of causing a disturbance to public order, and an activist who screened it in his community has even been arrested.

Some of the most chilling moments from the documentary are interviews with the perpetrators of Jyoti’s rape and murder, with quotes such as “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy” and, referring to the rape of a five-year-old girl, " She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.” Attorneys representing the defendants echoed similar statements (one stated that if his daughter or sister went out socially with a male acquaintance, he would burn her alive) and survivors have echoed that they heard similar sentiments during their own assaults. It is easy to imagine the assailants to be monsters, or to think that such a crime could never happen in the United States. 

It is important to remember that the actions and words of the rapists do not reflect the entire Indian subcontinent – this is shown by the protests that resulted in response to the rape — but the fact that these five men exhibited little remorse for their actions does point back to a greater issue of inequality.  Through the film, Udwin aims to illustrate that the mentality of the rapists is largely a product of a culture that has devalued the lives of women for centuries. She captures this best by stating “these men are not the disease, they are the symptoms.”

When reading about India’s Daughter or similar events in other countries it is okay to be upset, angry or saddened by what you see: in fact, these are all normal reactions. To be an effective advocate for equality and ending rape, one must understand that while these specific rapes and crimes may be unique to a region, the issue is far more widespread. Although the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh happened in India and was largely a product of Indian gender inequality, rape and victim blaming are also elements of American culture that are never far from home.

Watching the film as Americans, we must work to understand that this mentality and almost institutionalized acceptance of rape is neither uniquely Indian nor something that could never happen in the United States. Complacency towards rape is exhibited in mainstream views towards rape in prisons, and countless events of bystander non-intervention. I believe the most widespread example of American rape culture is the prevalence of victim-blamingin media. Too often young assailants are described as boys whose futures have been ruined by this event and victims are blamed for putting themselves in negative situations. Assuming an individual deserves to be raped based on their apparel, profession, or level of intoxication is not that distant from saying “a girl is more responsible for rape than a boy.”