17-Year-Old Indian Girl's Suicide Is Closer to Home Than We Might Think

Headlines have been glaring at me for the last couple of days, telling me that a 17-year-old girl in India killed herself after being gang-raped. Inevitably, a line follows about the 23-year-old Indian medical student who was violently sexually assaulted on a bus in front of her boyfriend, then robbed and left in critical condition (she is currently in a Singapore hospital with severe physical damage, including head trauma). Only in the details does it start becoming apparent that the 17-year-old who poisoned herself did so after the police continuously failed her.

89% of reported* violent crimes in India last year were against women. That’s not even a statistic, that’s an outrage. The 17-year-old girl who was assaulted by several men was forced to go from “pillar to post” just to get her case registered. Once she had, one police officer tried to convince her to withdraw her case. According to her sister, the police also pressured her to accept a cash settlement or marry one of her attackers. There are reports in India of police officers refusing to register rape complaints, which explains why this girl had to go to several stations before getting far enough with her case to at least be patronized while getting no help whatsoever.

Her attackers were detained (not yet arrested) only after they were named in her suicide note, and I can’t help but think that the headlines have been misrepresenting what really happened. It seems that this girl committed suicide not after being gang-raped, but after being treated like a pariah by her judicial system. I can’t begin to fathom the hopelessness of not being able to feel safe in a place as public as a bus, let alone in a police station where help and justice are to be expected. Women and men alike have been protesting vehemently in India, as this is the second jarring case of sexual assault within a month.

I’m not overly familiar with India’s culture and politics, and I’m definitely not going to go into heavy commentary about pretending to, especially as a white girl in America. What I can’t help thinking is that while all these headlines have been filled with stories of what happened halfway across the world, they aren’t foreign. My first thought was of Savannah Dietrich, who risked legal action this summer to expose her attackers after they posted videos of her sexual assault online, because the court was going to give them a slap on the wrist. What it comes down to is a lax system of punishment for rape – not just when it comes to actual legal consequences, but social repercussions as well.

We’re still focusing rape prevention on women. Rape in the military is at over 20% for female veterans (males are at 1%, far more than women in terms of the number of people), so instead of prosecuting anyone, let’s just teach women how to use pepper spray, right? Just use the buddy system! One in four women in the USA are raped at some point in their lifetime (fun fact – the last time I posted that statistic, a commenter, male, tried to argue that this stat was lower and therefore it wasn’t even such a big deal). 44% of them are under the age of 18, and 80% are under the age of 30. 54% of rape cases go unreported, because our culture allows the victim to feel shame, instead of putting the blame on the attacker. These aren’t statistics. These are people. These are lives that are interrupted, changed, sometimes broken for the rest of their duration. Because “her skirt was short” is still an acceptable line to utter, and we’ve come up with the term “date rape” since it occurs to frequently that it needed a name.

97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. I don’t understand how that is even possible, how there can be such a painfully massive failure in our judicial system. This is what we do: we blame women for feeling free to dress as they please, and let rapists off the hook when they use flimsy excuses (if any) to violate another person. If our judicial system is any ethical indicator, marijuana possession is worse than rape. Absurd doesn’t even begin to cover it. To add insult to injury, we’ve all just spent an election year listening to countless old white men using near-psychotically incorrect notions of rape to support their stance on abortion, turning sexual assault into a sidebar that serves to open up conversation to what they think are bigger, more important issues, like mandating control over women’s bodies.

F******************ck all of this. We have derogatory words specifically for women who choose to be promiscuous, and yet none for men who sexually assault others. We don’t even have a word for men who are promiscuous; we’ve just re-appropriated terms applied to women. We have events like Slutwalk protests and organizations like RAINN and Hollaback, creating social change and offering support, and it’s fantastic. Throngs of people in India are protesting on behalf of their own safety, and that of their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. It’s incredible to see the outpouring of resistance to violence against women.

The common factor that is missing is government action – it seems to me, reading between the lines, that most of India’s police action regarding the high profile rape cases recently has been more of an act of PR cleanup than standard procedure. The intensity of social action taken in the US against the culture of rape has been clearly unmatched by government action, because 97% of rapists is pretty much all the rapists, and they not only walk right out the courthouse door, but do so back into society where they can feel even more empowered to become repeat offenders.

It is stunning that we pay attention to issues like rape, bullying, and homophobia now only because a victim committed suicide to end the agony caused by it. It is also stunning to me how many news outlets picked up the story in India, as if sexual assault halfway around the world somehow made it distant and foreign. This is the point where I conclude this post with some kind of finalizing statement and deep insight, but I can’t. This issue continues, is a serious one, and affects the lives of millions of women globally. We have to keep these conversations going, and we have to hold our governments accountable, whichever side of the planet we happen to live on.


*Needless to say, many cases (in the US, about 54%) go unreported.

US statistics taken from RAINN

Photo via the Associated Press

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594509651 Thash Nathan

    Hi Julia, the 23 year old rape victim has succumbed to her injuries. Sickening and horrifying, what happened to this girl. http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/NewDelhi/Wake-up-India-23-year-old-Delhi-gangrape-victim-is-dead/Article1-982208.aspx

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      Truly, truly awful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000143752769 Sophie Grant

    The last paragraph, I completely agree with. It seems like for anyone to notice a flaw in the judicial system, a young teenager has to commit suicide first. It’s sad, especially since India is doing so well in the run to developing at a quicker rate, but women are still being treated like a minority group in both western and third world countries. I feel like no one wants us talking about these issues out loud, or even publicly, but there is little else we can do if the government won’t put down their fancy technology and cars,or stop arguing over whether we should base laws off of the Bible, and focus on the real issues at hand here. No female, or even male at that, should fear going to college, simply because of how high the statistics in sexual harassment have gotten in the last few years, which is a story I’ve been hearing too often where I live. I loved this post, it’s great that I’m not the only one who is riled by this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=605972630 Sarah Marie

    As a victim of rape, I appreciate the article. I was 14 and he was 18 no one believed me the police kept putting off my case until the statute of limitations was up. I will never get justice. I used to think about suicide but my family supported me and I kept thinking that if I didn’t keep pressing the issue other girls would get hurt. I’m happy to say that my attacker feels remorse and has never hurt anyone else. He and I both got clean and he is now married with a little girl and has another baby on the way. I have forgiven him and there are times when I have to think about the good that has come from this, the places that I got out of to be who I am today, and forgive him all over again. But I would gladly forgive and offer help to those in my situation rather than live with hate and regret in my heart.

    • http://www.juliagazdag.com Julia Gazdag

      That’s a really moving story, Sarah. Thank you for sharing it, it means a lot that you did.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608805084 Elizabeth Craig

    F*********ck all of this indeed. I got very emotional reading this because I get so very very angry with this topic. The fact that there are not longer sentences for rapists and that there is so much shame placed onto victims only scratches the surface of why I get angry.
    A powerful article, and something which doesn’t get discussed enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000512011619 Robert Sabin

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=808870693 Senni Dempster

    I am very glad you pointed out the flaws of North American judicial systems. We, as a society, have a tendency to use “othering” (i.e. “I am not like you, therefore I am better”) to distance ourselves from issues that are prevalent in our culture, even though, in many ways, we are no better. Thank you for addressing this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000512011619 Robert Sabin

    seems as humanity goes farther along the civilized path we have found newer ways to disguise the atrocities we committ upon each other. it’s sickening to think that a woman cant even ride a bus without being raped and beaten. was there anyone else on the bus? and if so why wouldnt anyone do anything? WTF! it scares me that in 2012 women are still being treated that terribly by men. we are taught in school that as humanity progresses we become more civilized, but instances like these just make me question the meaning of civilization. because clearly things havent changed that much people are still getting murdered, guns pour onto the streets and women are still being treated like garbage even though they constitute more than half of the worlds population these our are mothers sisters and daughters and the fact that no one on that bus would help this poor girl sickens me even more. is public rape really that acceptable in India that people turned a blind eye. sorry for the rant incidents like these make me really angry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000323428565 Sly Hg Tly TyghTy

    That’s just wrong. people need to be able to say something (You need to learn about shame and have honer every day) everyone does

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1468120614 Cynthia Elvira

    It makes me sad that we should teach our kids self defense instead of love and respect for every human kind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003883304824 Fisher Man

    There are not any words that one can offer the family which suffers from the hate and brutality that these men caused their loved one and in affect the family as well. 89% is a high statistic. We take our freedoms for granted in the USA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000284658580 Anupriya Bhardwaj

    Presently living in the city where 23 year old is brutally gang-raped,I feel aggravated and sad by the tragic fate. I appreciate this article of yours,as it heighten awareness of the millennial-old discrimination and exploitation,often brutal and criminal, perpetrated against women.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1200073964 Diana Moreva

    I hope everyone reads this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000021469223 Antra Jha

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000707916111 Juliana Piesco

    Hi, Julia!
    Awesome article. I am really disgusted, and worried because this treating of crime against women — specially rape — seems like a worldwide trend.
    You mentioned in your article that the rapists were only detained after they were named in the girls suicide note. Want to hear something truly absurd? In December here in Brazil, a 21-year-old law student called Viviane was raped by a lawyer at the company she worked as an intern. After weeks of suffering, she committed suicide, and also left notes stating clearly that she was raped, and naming the rapist – but since the company is the second biggest in Brazil, and there is a lot of cash involved, the name has not been disclosed to the press and the person is free and not being prosecuted in any way.
    I wish women all over the world didn’t have to take the blame for being sexual harassed or suffering sexual violence anymore. But that seems so far away from the world we live in nowadays!

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