The Latitude News Op-Ed column is a space where people from all walks of life can share their opinions on the links and parallels between the U.S. and the rest of the world.
As tens of thousands took to the streets across India to express outrage at the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old student in Delhi, smaller protests were held in Ohio to condemn the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl by the small town’s beloved high school football players.
Americans were shocked by the gruesome details of how the young Indian woman was raped and beaten to death. As the six Indian men are charged with rape and murder, the media is now focusing on Steubenville, Ohio, where several young men are alleged to have sexually assaulted and urinated on an unconscious girl.
Although the India and Ohio cases are vastly different, they share far too many similarities. They are about an unspeakable violence against women that kills them physically and psychologically. A young woman died in India from sexual violence. Her death is symbolic of the death of so many women the world over.
But the world as a whole is not on fire like India. The world is still silent on the rape of women.
It is this silence that emboldens men to continue to violate the bodies of women and girls. It is this silence that the rapists of the deceased Indian woman counted on, from the laziness of the police to the apathy and indifference among politicians. It is this silence — rampant in sports culture the world over — that condones violence against women and girls. Here in Steubenville, the tweets, Facebook posts and a 12-minute video of those who were party to the assault all paint a disturbing picture of what happened that night, but it is also a reflection of the deeply held misogyny among young American men.
And it’s not just the culture of violence against women that should concern us. The criminal justice system further violates the survivor.
In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes. In the United States, a woman is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. In 2011, only 25 percent of rape perpetrators in documented cases in India were arrested or faced conviction. Indian rape survivors are subjected to a medical test known as the “the two finger test” wherein the doctor inserts two fingers into the victim’s vagina to assess how habituated to sex she has been. In the United States, only 24 percent of rapes reported to police result in arrests, and even fewer in convictions. Although rape test kits are available to rape survivors, in many instances, they are not submitted to crime labs for analysis. According to a 2011 study by the National Institute of Justice, “18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002 to 2007 contained forensic evidence that was still in police custody.” In Texas, for example, the New York Times uncovered “some 20,000 untested rape test kits sitting on evidence shelves in police departments.”
What these two young women also share is the moral outrage their tragedies have catalyzed in their communities and across the world. Their tragedy was not in vain. As Kavita Ramdas, head of Ford Foundation India wrote in an e-mail to me, “If the candlelight vigils across the nation are any indication — from small fishing villages to every major metropolitan area of India, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru — this is galvanizing a population.”
Now is our moment to build on this momentum by taking on the difficult task of challenging the deeply patriarchal culture of violence that dehumanizes women and girls. We must denounce politicians who allege that “legitimate rape” exists and House Republican leaders who stalled the 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which would have extended protections to 30 million LGBT individuals, Native American women and undocumented immigrants.
We must demand that President Obama and the U.S. Senate ratify CEDAW — the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — a global anti-violence treaty which only six other countries in the world have not ratified, including Iran and Somalia.
Together, we can end the culture of rape and violence against women. In order to do so, we must break the silence — the silence among police, politicians and ourselves.
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, the world’s largest public grantmaking foundation supporting women’s groups in 174 countries.