Back in college, a couple of friends and I had scrambled into an autorickshaw and were travelling from IIT-Delhi to Vasant Vihar. For those of you who are familiar with Delhi, you'd know that the stretch is a tricky, shady one. Soon, a bunch of four boys on two motorcycles started to follow us. They asked for our names, sang dirty songs and tried to ram into the auto to scare us. The driver was quick to dismiss this is as an everyday story.
"Rehne do madam, chale jayenge (Let it be, they will leave)," he said.
Except they didn't. Worried, we called the police, and when we started to report the number plate, the boys left. And yet, 12 hours later, there was the police at my doorstep at 2 am, with raised eyebrows. I was "questioned" for two hours, and then many follow up calls were made for "safety" over the next two days. I was living in a conservative South Indian colony at the time, and this interrogation was met with a lot of speculation. "What did she do?" was the most common question.
All I did was report a case of eve-teasing to the police, and yet I had to face the brunt of it. This is probably why when I read the letter that the Stanford victim read aloud to her attacker in court, I sobbed. I can tell you that I was not the only person to have sobbed in frustration, and this is no isolated case.
Victim-blaming is rampant in India as it is anywhere in the world.
But let's keep our emotions aside on this case, as hard as it may be. There are some crucial questions to be asked, and very scary deductions to be made. The story of the Standford rape case is as follows: Two Swedish PhD students found Brock Turner on top of an unconscious girl behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus on 18 January, 2015 and reported him to the police. After changing his stance multiple times, Guardian reported that he finally settled on blaming the "party culture" of "drinking".
"I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night.. At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed. I never want to experience being in a position where it will have a negative impact on my life or someone else’s ever again."
If we compare Turner's statement with that of the girl's, it will be amply clear that she talks about the abuse, about the mental trauma, about consent — all of which are valid feelings to feel.
Turner, on the other hand, is quick to push the blame on alcohol, and it's all done so inconspicuously that it's easy for it to escape our notice.
This ability for us to be forgiving of the male in question, while raising our doubts on the woman (her letter gives insight on the multiple questions she was asked by the police about her drinking habits and her sex life) is most evident in the coverage of the case.
Take this Washington Post article for example. A recent Facebook post pointed out that they initially used a bright, vibrant picture of Turner as reference, even though he may take many years to be bright and vibrant again.
They have since taken it down, replacing the image with a mugshot, but if you do a quick Google search on the case, you will notice that very few people have used his mug shot from the night of the assault. Either his yearbook image, or a booking image, which has him wearing a suit, has been used. This has been credited to the fact that his mugshot was not released for a long time.
You may think this is not a big deal, but it is. This is where the apologising begins — "It was just this one time" "Poor thing, one night of drinking has cost him his life" "He was going to be a swimming champion, I feel so bad" — but why should you? He was found on top of an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, and tried to run when caught.
Here's a grim reality: This could have been any of us. We've all been in a place where we've had too much to drink, too soon.
What about the girl's future? How much media space have we dedicated to the abuse survivor? Apart from CNN, whose TV host Ashleigh Banfield used 20 minutes of airtime to read the survivor's statement, word-for-word, there is probably no other instance.
Since then, Turner, who could have been put into jail for 14 years as per the law, was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation, on 2 June. The reasoning given was that a long sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a swimming champion and potential Olympian.
“There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is… intoxicated,” said judge Aaron Persky, according to this Quartz article.
This case also poses important questions like why was there a gap in the release of Turner's mugshot? Would this have been the same if the assaulter in question was not a white male?
Would Turner's father, who said, the sentence was a "steep price” to pay for “20 minutes of action” feel the same way if he was a father to an abuse survivor?
The Washington Post piece spends much space talking about Turner's life and ambitions as a swimmer and very little about the case in question. They use sentences such as, "Turner’s future was once bright" or "Although Turner’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal driving limit, he testified that he remembered what happened that night. The woman, whose BAC was more than three times the limit, did not."
If you look at the above image of Turner from his yearbook, even you would feel like he's your typical mama's boy and swimmer, with no inclination of abuse. This is the basis of wrongful biases, and as the media we cannot be biased in a sensitive case like this. Take a hard look at Turner's mugshot on the right. That is the boy who assaulted the girl behind a dumpster.
Beyond the judgment and law, there is no grey in this matter. Only blacks and whites. There is an assaulter, and an assault survivor.
The former warrants blame, the latter warrants support. It's really that simple.
First Published On : Jun 8, 2016 13:28 IST