US media must examine rape culture stateside


On an evening just before Christmas in New Delhi, six men dumped a naked, bleeding 23-year-old woman off a bus after brutally gang-raping her. The severity of her injuries and the delay in medical treatment just after the incident led to her death two weeks later.

Jyoti Singh’s death prompted massive protests in New Delhi and across India. Young women joined together with teachers, parents and activists from all demographic groups to protest abuse against women and the Indian government’s failure to acknowledge the social issue. The cries for social justice in India include demands for new legislation and the enforcement of existing legislation that entails a greater punishment for violence against women.

After the incident, dozens of American journalists documented the alleged rape culture in India because of its mistreatment of women. But many articles written about the incident not only distorted the issue of social awareness in India, but also represented Western hypocrisy with regard to how issues of institutionalized sexual abuse are covered.

On Jan. 2, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.,  proposed an amendment to the NDAA repealing the decades-long ban against health insurance coverage of abortions for service members who are survivors of rape.

Though many women’s rights advocates and women in the military applaud the bill as a small step forward for female service members, others have raised questions and concerns regarding the logistics of the bill. Many military women hold doubts that the bill would provide a solution to the broken system, citing the difficulties that accompany reporting sexual crimes in the military, especially when the accused is in a position of authority over the victim.

The new process has also raised fears that investigations into reported rapes and sexual assaults could, in fact, delay women from having the procedure as quickly as they could if they paid out-of-pocket. There are no provisions in the bill protecting women from commanders further mistreating the women after reporting a sexual assault.

In December 2012, the Department of Defense reported that one in every three women serving in the U.S. military is sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on sexual assault prevention reports that only 3,192 sexual assaults were reported out of an estimated 19,000 that occurred; if the numbers are accurate, only 17 percent of rapes were reported. Women who did report sexual assaults were often met with disinterest by the military, and charges were hardly pursued. But what was most surprising was that the media coverage on the release of these shocking statistics was minimal — close to nothing.

Though the passage of NDAA serves as a step toward justice for the women serving in the military, there are still large changes that need to be made to ensure just and proper treatment of women. The statistics and disconcerting stories of rape victims in the military, along with the lack of legislation that protects them, perhaps reflects the patriarchic culture prevalent in our country. Moreover, the condescending attitude toward women, particularly from authority figures within the military, is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed before any bill or law can protect women against sexual abuse.

What is more disturbing is the lack of press attention on the issues of sexual assault in the United States. There was little coverage of the passage of Shaheen’s provision or its implications for women serving our country. American journalists discuss the fundamental issues that arise from patriarchal attitudes in far off countries but fail to address the same issues in our own. Maybe if they did, there would be more mass protests in the streets of Washington calling for social justice and a change in the military’s treatment of women.

The acknowledgement of the institutional mistreatment of women in the United States is the first step in making the necessary social changes that need to be made. Before we criticize other countries for their presumed social antiquities, we must examine the one we live in.

 

Anjali Ahuja is a freshman majoring in computer science.