Oh, the Inhumanity
A gang rape on a New Delhi bus that ended up killing a 23-year-old woman last year became a devastating wakeup call to India and the rest of the world. Amid an epidemic of sexual exploitation and violence, this especially tragic case got the international attention it deserved: news coverage, protests, and even a reconsideration of India's laws.
Then, just days ago, the first perpetrator in the case--a teenager--received a slap-on-the-hand sentence. (The verdict for the rest of the attackers is expected next week.) We're once again struck by that sick feeling that cases like these won't go away and that we're not doing enough to fight rape culture.
Because of my own experience with sexual abuse and the constant e-mails I get from others who have been abused, I know sexual exploitation is pervasive and has global implications. Case after case, I still can't stop asking myself, Why does this happen? What makes a person sexually dominate another? And what can be done about it?
Thankfully, we're talking about these questions more, even though the answers remain as elusive as ever. Indian journalist Dilip D'Souza says this his country's culture of rape:
The real problem is simultaneously wider, deeper, and infinitely more intractable than the police can ever hope to address, even if they were so inclined.
Intractable, because the real problem is us. My fellow Indians and I and our attitudes toward the people who surround us. It's the way we consider our fellow citizens.
Sexual abuse gets rooted in power and selfishness. The thinking goes, "I want what I want when I want it." In such an entirely selfish perspective, there is no consideration of ruining another person's life, of infecting, injuring, or torturing them, because there is no consideration of another person at all. The perpetrator switches to thinking of their victim as no longer human. It's alarming how easily people can flip that switch.
I recently heard the story of Daniel Kahneman recounting his time in France as a little boy during World War II. He was Jewish, and found himself out after curfew. Terrified, he turned his sweater inside out so that no one would see his Star of David. An SS officer approached him, then picked him up. Daniel was terrified the man would be able, from that vantage point, see inside his sweater. Instead, the officer set him down, pulled out a picture of his own son, and gave Daniel money. And yet this same officer, in a different context, may have killed children and sent many to their deaths. The difference? In one episode, he saw Daniel as a human being, someone similar to his own son. In the other, Daniel and his people were subhuman, destined for torture and death.
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