Some Good News for Sexual-Assault Victims

“You matter. What happened to you matters.”

The Department of Justice announced more than $38 million in funding on Monday to help state and local agencies address the backlog of untested sexual-assault kits. The funding, part of a national initiative launched last year, will go toward increasing the inventory and the testing of kits, training law enforcement officers on sexual-assault investigations, helping police departments collect DNA that could lead to the identification of serial sex offenders, as well as several other efforts.

Sexual-assault kits, more commonly known as rape kits, are the DNA swabs, hair, photographs, and detailed information gathered from victims of sexual assault and used as evidence for the prosecution of rapists. The forensic exam can often be long—from four to six hours—and, as activists note, invasive, but it can provide key evidence for identifying assailants. But getting the contents of a rape kit tested is expensive, costing between $1,000 and $1,500 on average. Lack of funding in police departments, as well as murky protocols around testing, has created a backlog of more than 400,000 untested kits across the country, according to a 2015 estimate. As a result, victims may never see their cases prosecuted, and serial rapists could go on to commit more crimes. New York, among other states, is still in the process of counting the number of untested kits it has, while others simply do not know how many untested kits there are, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s Accountability Project.

This round of funding could go a long way toward helping cities and police departments close cases, identify serial offenders, and better handle sexual-assault cases in the future. (Last fiscal year, the DOJ awarded nearly $80 million in grants to state and local agencies in 27 states, but there are still states that have yet to participate in the initiative.) After Detroit received a pilot grant to test rape kits, its police department has been able to make DNA matches, identify potential serial rapists, and secure convictions against perpetrators. In a 2011-13 DOJ-funded study on rape kit testing in Detroit, researchers had found that in many cases, law enforcement stopped investigating cases after minimal effort and were biased in how they conducted sexual assault investigations, with officers expressing “negative, victim-blaming beliefs about sexual assault victims.” The DOJ later released guidance on how police departments could better address gender biases in how they investigate sexual assault and domestic violence. A study this June by Case Western Reserve University of nearly 5,000 rape kits collected in and near Cleveland found that serial rapists are more common than previous research has suggested.

Maile M. Zambuto, CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a sexual-assault advocacy organization, applauded the new funding in a statement. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence,” she said. “You matter. What happened to you matters.”

India’s Daughter & Rape Culture

[Two articles below about India’s Daughter film of 2012 rape in India]

India’s Daughter review – this film does what the politicians should be doing

By Sonia Faleiro, author of 13 Men The Guardian, March 5, 2015

gbviolprotest India’s Daughter is director Leslee Udwin’s stirring documentation of a crime that triggered what she has described as “an Arab Spring for gender equality” in India.

The December 2012 Delhi bus gang rape resulted in the death of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh at the hands of six men. The men threw Singh and her male friend out of the bus before gleefully divvying up the pair’s belongings.

One rapist got a pair of shoes, another scored a jacket. There was, however, an item that Singh had left behind which the men didn’t want. So they wrapped the innards they had wrenched out of her in their frenzy of violence in a piece of cloth, and pitched it through the window. “They had no fear,” Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus and one of four men to be convicted for Jyoti’s rape and murder, tells Udwin.

The interview with Mukesh Singh, whose death sentence is currently in appeal, is a coup for Udwin, who is the first journalist ever allowed to talk to him, or any of the men. She will likely be the last. Yesterday the authorities banned the film in India after claiming that Udwin had failed to get the requisite permissions. Shortly afterwards the parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu described the film as “an international conspiracy”.

Naidu’s allegation is bewildering, given that the film reveals little that is new either about the crime, or the mindset of the man convicted of it.

Journalists have reported on the rape in detail. And surely it comes as no surprise that someone who participated in a gang-rape and is now on death row will place blame just about anywhere it might stick in the hope of a reprieve – the grinding poverty that he was born into, the overbearing nature of his older brother, who is believed to have masterminded the assault, even his victim.

A whining Singh comes off as genuinely unconvinced that he should be in jail. “She should just be silent and allow the rape,” says Singh, implying that if Jyoti had only done the right thing and let the men take from her what was theirs – her body – she would still be alive today.

In fact audiences, in India at least, are unlikely to flinch at anything Udwin has to show them. If she thinks that she is holding up a mirror, she should know that Indians have been looking into it for some time now and are as eager for reform as those outside India demanding it on their behalf.

Even the statements of the two lawyers for the men, in which they describe women in terms as disparate as diamonds, food, and flowers – objects all, of course – before finally admitting that “in our culture there is no place for women” will sound familiar.

But it is the dismaying familiarity of the views expressed by Singh and his lawyers – which are now mainstream in India, echoed by everyone from politicians to high school students – that makes this essential viewing. Some will argue that the unapologetic misogyny revealed in these interviews is a skewed representation of the Indian male mindset. But it is, in fact, widespread.

Delhi protest

‘No rape’ message during a demonstration in New Delhi. Photo Mahesh Kumar/AP

 Singh’s interview also confirms that Indian jails restrain; they do not rehabilitate. It is obvious, given the views he expresses to Udwin, that were he to be released today he would walk the streets of Delhi still convinced of the lopsided inevitability of relationships between men and women: what men want, women must promptly give, even at the pain of death.

Udwin has opted for a tight focus, but some viewers may wish that she had embraced a broader view of the rape crisis in India. The country’s history of anti-rape agitation, for example.

The protests that followed the death of Jyoti Singh may have been the largest against rape, but they were certainly not the first. Earlier high-profile crimes such as the 1972 Mathura custodial rape case also led to legal reform, and laid the groundwork for the development of the protest constituency that filled Delhi’s political corridor from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate that December, in what ultimately turned into a war zone of tear gas, lathi strikes, and police violence.

But Udwin, like any good field reporter, doggedly pursues this one case from start to present, unable to tear herself away even for a minute. Her intimate focus allows for a more affecting narrative.

Jyoti Singh’s parents emerge as superheroes, radiating courage and strength. Her father Badri Singh, then an airport loader, comes across as exactly the sort of modern, forward-thinking, male feminist that India would be so lucky to have many millions more of. And her mother, Asha, who says of Jyoti’s birth “we celebrated like she was a boy”, was surely the propeller that allowed her daughter’s soaring ambitions to take flight.

Udwin skilfully contrasts the light in Singh’s young life with the darkness that engulfed the lives of her rapists.

The Singhs were poor, but they cared for their children fiercely. Jyoti, their only daughter, grew up well-adjusted and focused, but also deeply empathetic. One of her friends recalls that after the police picked up a street urchin for snatching her purse, Singh, rather than berating the boy, took him aside and asked him what made him do it. Because I want what you have, he said – shoes, jeans, a hamburger. Singh, recalled her friend, promptly took the boy shopping and bought him everything on his wish list. Her only stipulation was that he not steal again.

The word “happy” repeatedly comes up in reference to Jyoti. She was happy, said Asha Singh. She had only six months of her internship left, recalled Badri Singh. “Happiness was a few steps ahead.”

In contrast, the six men who would take Singh’s life appear never to have encountered happiness. The juvenile left his home in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when he was just 11 years old and didn’t return. His mother thought him dead. The others were familiar with poverty and violence. In turn, they were violent towards others. “There is nothing good about him,” Singh says of one his co-conspirators. Of another he admits: “He was capable of anything.”

A psychiatrist in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where Singh is lodged, tells Udwin that he knows of rapists who have committed as many as 200 rapes before they are ever caught. Two hundred rapes that they remember, that is.

Given Singh’s own statements it isn’t a stretch to say that had the men got away with raping and killing Jyoti, they would have raped and killed again. Or, that neither Singh’s mindset nor even the manner of the rape, during which an iron rod was inserted into Jyoti, was, as the court declared in its judgment, truly “the rarest of the rare”. As recently as February this year, a woman was gang-raped by nine men in Rohtak, Haryana for over three hours. The men violated her with bricks and asbestos sheets. Sticks, stones and condoms were found stuffed in her private parts.

India’s Daughter doesn’t malign India, but Naidu’s statement about a “conspiracy” does demonstrate, with an acute lack of self-awareness, what lies at the heart of the nation’s rape crisis.

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is shameful; but that talking about rape is shameful because it draws attention to the fact that it happens at all. This fear is exactly what prevents rape victims from filing police complaints, and, as a result, emboldens rapists to strike again and again. In fact, Udwin has done what India’s politicians should rightfully be doing: investigating rape cases thoroughly and discussing them openly.

While eloquently expressing his love for his daughter, Badri Singh tells Udwin: “I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light.”

The Indian government has thwarted his wishes. By banning this documentary it has deprived the Singhs of the opportunity to share the story of their daughter widely within India. In attempting to push a conversation about rape back into the closet, it has stigmatised the subject further. It has done more damage to India’s reputation, and, far worse, the fight against rape, than any film ever could.

****

 

Why India gang-rape film row is extraordinary

By Soutik Biswas  BBC Delhi correspondent  03.05.15

A documentary by a British film-maker on the 2012 gang rape and murder of a female student in Delhi has kicked up a storm in India.

The courts have issued an injunction stopping it from being shown in India, and the home minister has promised an inquiry into the making of the documentary.

The film and the row it has generated are extraordinary for four main reasons.

Incredible access

British producer Leslee Udwin gained some of the most extraordinary and rare access that any film-maker has ever had inside an Indian prison.

She interviewed convicted rapist Mukesh Singh for 16 hours over three days. She says the crew was given permission by the jail authorities and the ministry of home affairs.

Activist Kavita Krishnan wondered how Udwin was allowed access to convicts inside jail when authorities “prevent most human rights campaigners in India from speaking to, let alone filming, prisoners”.

The hour-long film also includes extensive interviews of the victim’s parents, families of the convicts and their lawyers, interspersed with reconstruction of the incident.

Remorseless rapist

Mukesh Singh, who is facing the death penalty along with three others, expressed no remorse and blamed the victim for fighting back.

Times Now news channel promptly took the lead in whipping up a campaign against the film, which it has described as “voyeuristic” and against “all norms of journalism”.

Some media analysts believe this has more to do with the channel’s rivalry with NDTV, which had the rights to broadcast the film.

Critics of the film have variously accused it of glorifying the rapist by giving him a platform, encouraging copycat crimes, or prejudicing the appeals of the rapists and spurring demands to fast-track their executions.

Others have been outraged that Indian audiences have been “exposed to the remarks of such a brutal man” on prime-time news. Although, it has to be said, Indians are accustomed to some pretty shocking stuff on prime-time news.

Official outrage

A Delhi court has blocked the film “until further orders” after police said Mukesh Singh’s “offensive and derogatory remarks” were “creating an atmosphere of fear and tension with the possibility of public outcry and law and order situation”.

A cynical friend suggests most of this outcry and potential danger to the law and order situation is confined to the TV studios and social media.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has promised an inquiry into how the prison authorities gave permission to the film-maker and said he was “deeply shocked” by the interview.

Some say India has sadly become a country of bans – films, books, and in a recent case, even beef.

It is not clear though whether the film’s ban was provoked by a touchy Indian government led by the image-conscious Prime Minister Narendra Modi or because the home ministry was embarrassed.

Free speech

Many believe that the ban on the film hurts India’s reputation most.

When Mr Modi is trying hard to spruce up India’s global image as a favoured destination to invest and visit, such ham-fisted and impulsive reactions cannot really help.

“It is patronising to control what people see about their own country,” an American artist said on my Twitter timeline.

“Nobody sensible is suggesting banning the film,” says writer Salil Tripathi. “That is wrong”.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Senior minister Venkaiah Naidu talks about a “conspiracy to defame India” and says the “country will be harmed if Ms Udwin’s documentary is broadcast outside India”.

Many believe India’s image will be harmed because India’s government is not seen to be supportive of free speech, and not because of Mukesh Singh’s odious remarks.

Why don’t they let Indians watch the film and make up their minds about it? Why can’t the state be less paternalistic?

Rape’s Horrible Inhumanity

 The Brutal Inhumanity of Rape

[Excerpt Below] 12.18.14 Published by The Washington Post

It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. 14 years later, this is mine.

By Abigail Hauslohner

As this newspaper’s Cairo bureau chief, I live and work with the risk of sexual violence all around me. I’ve covered war and political turmoil in the Middle East for the past seven years, spending five of those in Cairo, where sexual harassment is an almost daily experience. When I was groped amid a crowd of protesters battling police outside Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque on the fourth day of the uprising in 2011, I turned around and punched the guy in the face.

My friends tell me I’m “tough.” But it wasn’t until I completed an intensive course of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in October that I was able to finally confront pain I’ve been carrying with me for 14 years. I had gone to see a PTSD therapist to seek relief from what I’ve witnessed and experienced as a Middle East and war correspondent, to deal with the fear that had taken over my dreams and had begun to affect my work. I wanted to be able to react calmly to loud noises — instead of sensing an explosion every time a door slammed or a car backfired.

But we also ended up spending a lot of time dealing with an earlier experience that had nothing to do with the Middle East and yet almost outranked my war experiences: one night in 2001, when, as a 17-year-old, I visited a friend at his college and he raped me.

Until stories broke about rape accusations against Bill Cosby and an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, I had generally avoided reading about rape. I avoided reporting on it, too — as much as that pains me to admit. When I tried to write about Egypt’s sexual assault problem two years ago, I had great reporting and great timing — it was Valentine’s Day, also a day of anti-rape activism. I knew it was an important story and I wanted to put it out there, but I couldn’t do it.

My experience in therapy helped unburden me of the shame that I have carried since I was a teenager and prompted me to speak out now. I’ve found inspiration in the willingness of rape survivors to talk about their assaults, years or decades after the fact. I decided it was time for me to do the same. It should never be too late.

Nearly 14 years ago, I went to visit my friend — I’ll call him “X” — at his college campus. I saw X as a goofy but caring, older-brother type; we’d overlapped in high school and had a platonic and confiding sort of friendship. I never found him attractive.

When X went to college, he joined a fraternity and promised to take me to a real college party. My parents, who were fairly strict and usually would not have let me spend a weekend visiting a boy on a college campus, let me go because X was a friend. I packed my coolest top — a bright pink, sleeveless turtleneck sweater — a pair of Guess jeans and a new necklace that I loved.

The party was hosted by X’s fraternity. I remember walking into a relatively empty house and settling in nervously on a couch. Most of the people in the room were guys, and I was eager to seem cool. X asked if I wanted a drink; I said sure. He brought me a big plastic cup full of red punch.

The rest of that night I remember in flashes of images and sound. I can’t remember anything between sitting on the couch and drinking from that cup, and then being propped up in the back seat of a car that wasn’t X’s, with someone else driving someplace. I think I lost consciousness somewhere between the couch and the car.

[See full story]

Video Games Teaching Murder

Grand Theft Auto V makes it cool to pick up – even kill – prostitutes

My students play GTA V instead of studying. It teaches them to kill prostitutes and demean women in the game – and beyond

Cassie Rodenberg    Theguardian.com, December 27, 2013

A scene from Grand Theft Auto V where a player kills a prostitute. Photograph: Guardian

A scene from Grand Theft Auto V where a player kills a prostitute. Photograph: Guardian

Prostitutes walk certain locations at night. There’s a line of them in the industrial area. In something backless with thigh-high stockings. You can beep your horn to pick one up. “Get in gorgeous! Let’s party,” you’ll shout. “Let’s find someplace quiet, baby,” she’ll say.

Drive her to a secluded place, on a beach, next to the surf and palm trees.

“Go ahead, sugar. Tell me what you crave.”

Select your service from a drop down menu on the screen – $50 for a blow job, $70 for a half-and-half or $100 for everything. Use your joystick to move the camera on the game, to get a good angle.

“Oh my god, fuck yeah, give it to me,” she’ll say. She’ll keep talking for 20 seconds.

When you’re done you leave her there, run the car forward next to her, then reverse, backing over her. You can get out of the car and beat her. She’ll let you. Once she’s dead, you can grab your money back from the ground.

This is all possible, even encouraged by tips on YouTube and chatrooms, in Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, your character’s health (aka life points) goes up when you have sex with a prostitute.

Like many teenagers, students in New York City’s poorest neighborhood, the South Bronx, play Grand Theft Auto V. It was the fastest entertainment property to ever gross $1bn, which it managed in its first three days of release in September. In the first 24 hours alone, the game sold 11m copies. That’s 11m pixelated ghettos. The latest model is based like its predecessors on a high crime, poverty and gang violence area, this time outside Los Angeles. They see its advertisements featuring a sexy blonde character smirking on bus stops and the logoed stickers affixed to sidewalk posts and curbs.

They play at night instead of doing their homework. It’s cool to pick up prostitutes. This is how you learn to “be a man”. And while those students play their game, in their neighborhood, perhaps under their window, real prostitutes walk.

Millie was one of them, a woman who worked in South Bronx, who walked the streets. She stood on the track, a simulacrum of game pixels. Her hair was short and curly and she had an accent. Maybe she asked men, “want to party?”

She’s dead now, dead like the on-screen women that are fun to kill. There, game and real women split. Millie died of an infection to the heart after too many hits of heroin into an abscess. She was an addict.

Men took her to a dumpster-filled lot, or to a Coca-Cola bottling plant, for a blow job, not to the beach. She would have celebrated $40 for a half-and-half. When her addiction peaked and her luck became short, $10 to earn a hit of heroin would suffice. $10 for most anything.

Sarah works the track, too. Her face is lined with grime, and she lives in a van on the side of the road, sometimes under the bridge of an overpass. She wears sneakers and sweatshirts, whatever she finds, instead of stockings. At work, she passes other women: Pepsi, Desire, Beauty, Egypt, Niecy. Other women who work to placate an addiction birthed by a lifetime’s worth of abuse and bad circumstances that landed them there. They fear ending up like Millie, the dead one.

Many Bronx students, mostly males, many of whom live in shelters or subsist in the foster care system, play GTA V and laugh. They play a game advertised to them, one that insidiously belittles their world, giving them lessons on what to mock about it.

These teenagers have the power to reign over those whores. Game and real women merge.

What they see dictates that they should mock the women outside their windows, mothers and sisters and neighbors. They should harden and laugh like the rest of the world who thoughtlessly screw, dump and kill the bitches in ghettos, things that no longer seem real to them.

Millie died with four children in the foster care system, two of them teenage boys. Her body lies in a mass grave for unclaimed bodies, a place where her sons cannot visit. But they can reach one memory of her on screen, hear her say, “hey, baby,” watch men shove her down.

• This article was amended on 27 December 2013 to clarify that killing prostitutes does not give a player additional points in the game, but having sex with them does.

Why the pervasive sexual violence?

Shocking UN Report Reveals 1 in 4 Men Admit to Raping Women for ‘Fun’ and Because of ‘Sexual Entitlement’

Brutality against women in Egypt -one of too many countries

Brutality against women in Egypt -just one of too many countries

As prosecutors fight for death penalty in Delhi fatal rape case, UN study finds disturbing facts about prevalence of sex crimes in Asia.

By Jodie Gummow

September 11, 2013  ~Alternet

A disturbing new report on sexual assault released by the United Nations reveals that one in four men have admitted to raping a woman once in their lives for entertainment, punishment and revenge amongst the top reasons listed, IBT reported.

The study which was published in the British Medical Journal The Lancet and conducted by the World Health Organization in the Asia-pacific region involved interviewing 10,178 men aged between 18 and 49 years old in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea about engaging in non-consensual sex.

Almost 75 percent of those interviewed said they committed rape because of “sexual entitlement,” or as form of punishment because the man was angry:

“They believed they had the right to have sex with the woman regardless of consent. The second most common motivation reported was to rape as a form of entertainment, so for fun or because they were bored. Perhaps surprisingly, the least common motivation was alcohol,” report author Dr. Emma Fulu said.

The study also highlighted, poverty, personal history of violence and victimization as contributing factors that led to rape crimes.

Dr. Michelle Decker of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said the findings should generate global outrage particularly in light of recent high profile rape cases such as the New Delhi student gang rape case in India:

“More than half of non-partner rape perpetrators first did so as adolescents, which affirms that young people are a crucial target population for prevention of rape. The challenge now is to turn evidence into action, to create a safer future for the next generation of women and girls,” she said in an interview with BBC.

The report comes amidst the news that prosecutors of the four men found guilty of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old in New Delhi, India in December say the men should face the death penalty for the crime that shocked the “collective consciousness,” of the people, BBC News reported.

In an address to Judge Yogesh Khanna, public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan said on Tuesday that the “sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death”.

In December, the female student was tricked into boarding an out-of-service bus by the men before they violently raped and tortured her.  The woman was flown to a Singapore hospital but subsequently died of her internal injuries as a result of the rape.

The incident sparked international outrage and widespread protests across the country calling upon the government to introduce harsher penalties for serious rape cases as well as increasing prison sentences.

No more rape

The world was horrified by the brutal rape of a 23-year old student in India. After many days in two different hospitals, she died in Singapore where she was taken for treatment. But rape is too common in many parts of India, according to human rights organizations. There were daily protests in India against rape and impunity, for this and the many cases that fail to get any justice.

A rape every 20 minutes?

The Indian National Crime Records Bureau reported a 10% increase of rapes in 2011, with the highest violence across India’s conservative northern belt. And all too often, cases are not taken seriously or investigated. But why? And if that is the case in the world’s largest democracy, what about other countries with equally patriarchal attitudes or worse? In Bangladesh a 16 year old was punished and beaten when she got pregnant as a result of her rape. The village elders pardoned the rapist. How common is that, and will this tragedy result in change?