Downton Abbey’s Rape Scene in Bad Taste?

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

Image Courtesy: theguardian.com

After the last episode of Downton Abbey, every one seems to be up in arms over the rape scene included in that episode. Whether it was done for the ratings or out of the need to tackle such a huge subject on national television, we will never truly know. What we do know is that people aren’t happy and I’d like to ask why?

According to an article on the Daily Mail, in the episode that aired on Sunday night, Joanna Froggatt’s character, Anna Bates, was attacked by Mr Green, played by actor Nigel Harman. It sparked more than 200 complaints from hardcore fans of the show to ITV and Ofcom with many saying it was too strong for a Sunday night.

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

Image Courtesy: telegraph.co.uk

The shows creator, Julian Fellowes has defended the episode by saying, “If we’d have wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out.

The point of our handling is not that we’re interested in sensationalizing but we’re interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage.”

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Image Courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

Even the actress whose character was raped in the scene has come out to publicly defend the scene, claiming that the show should be respected for their bravery exemplified by tackling such a huge global issue.

“I think he’s done a beautiful job with hitting the right note with it. We all just felt a big responsibility to get it right,” she said.

What I find puzzling is why is every one up in arms about this? Firstly, it is a TV show and if you don’t like what you see you have the option to turn off your television and not watch. Secondly, Downton Abbey is far from the only drama series that has portrayed sexual violence against women in some way shape or form. Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order (Special Vicitms Unit) and the BBC’s drama series: The Fall are just a few of the several series that portray sexual violence in some  or all of their episodes.

Furthermore, routine sexual abuse of domestic helpers during that era was commonplace, so claims that the producers and directors of the show were not being true to the era are misplaced. According to an article in The Guardian, “in terms of the way female servants were treated by those above and below stairs, it was accurate: many were raped, mistreated or subjected to abuse. This is part of our social history that cannot be ignored”.

So why the huge uproar? I think it’s largely because despite the prevalence of such violence against women all over the world, people are still largely uncomfortable with dealing with this issue when it is right in front of them.

Writing on Twitter, viewer Alexia Light also said that Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes owed viewers an apology over the “sick and sensationalist” scene.

Another viewer Caroline Farrow described the scenes of sexual violence as “very distressing”.

Sure, television probably gives us a distorted impression of what is truly happening around the world. But, shouldn’t we be acclimatised to crimes of such a nature because we all know it’s happening all around us. No – rape is still a rather hush-hush topic that people see or hear of but don’t speak about. It’s amazing to me how in the century of communication, such an important topic is seen as something we used fear and be unaware of. If we aren’t ready to deal with the harsh reality of rape and sexual violence entails, how can we ever hope for change?

This is not to say that I condone the use of rape and violence against women as a ploy to get ratings up. If this were truly the case – which we will never really know – it is undoubtedly despicable. I despise sexualized content for the sake of entertainment. However, I do believe that “Julian Fellowes has done a fine job of portraying many of the difficulties experienced by women in the early 20th century: death in childbirth, destitution due to illegitimacy, the impact wrought by the horror of war”.

It is extremely important that sexual violence is discussed openly, and if portraying it on television leads to a dialogue, then that can only be a good thing. Like the article in the The Guardian states, “we should not be analyzing the scene itself, but how it is dealt with in the coming weeks. That will reveal more about the writer’s motivations than a moment of high drama ever will”.

What are your views? Do you think the show went too far or are we still not comfortable enough to have an open dialogue about sexual violence?

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Project Unbreakable: A Must Watch

This project is truly remarkable and I would be selling myself short if I didn’t share this on my blog. For the many critics and cynics out there, I hope this shows you that the issue I am talking about is indeed serious and affects a numerous number of people, from all walks of life and both genders.

Image Courtesy: projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

Image Courtesy: projectunbreakable.tumblr.com

 What resonated with me the most was this one line in the video that exemplifies everything my blog stands for.

“I realized that I had the ability to make a huge difference in a world where sexual abuse is shamed and kept quiet.”

I hope you take the time to watch this video and share it with your friends and family. Do also visit the Project Unbreakable blog for regular updates.

We have a voice, lets use it.

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Why Women May Be Perpetuating Rape Myths

As women, when issues of rape are brought to the table, we often point the finger whole-heartedly at men. However, in a recent survey, almost a third of the women surveyed claimed that there are varying degrees of rape. The same proportion also believe that if a woman does not fight back, the assault cannot amount to rape.

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

Image Courtesy: plus.google.com

This implies that the problem could lie with women’s perception of what rape truly is, reducing the conviction rate of a crime that is evidently on the rise.

In fact, the latest figures from the UK’s Ministry of Justice, show an estimated 60,000 to 95,000 incidents of rape on average in the last three years. Only 15,670 of these were reported to police, of which 2,910 rape cases went to court. This resulted in a total of 1,070 rape prosecutions.

While the dismal conviction rate may have something to do with the UK’s judicial system, it also has something to do with the lack of knowledge among women in terms what really amounts to being raped. In the survey carried out by the Charity Rape Crisis, a quarter of the 1,000 women surveyed, incorrectly thought if someone was drunk it could not be classified as rape, while 60% thought it did not count if a woman does not say no.

What struck me the most was the fact that rape was so completely misunderstood. Rape is a subset of sexual violence, defined by the World Health Organization as any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, or other act directed against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting.

It is easy to doubt a victim’s story especially if she was intoxicated when the assault had taken place. However, it should be noted that no woman who was drinking or drunk, is inviting rape. Instead, the fact that a person was too drunk or was under the influence of alcohol should imply that they were probably incapable of consenting to sex or making a sound decision in the first place.

The bottom line still remains that sex without consent is rape, and trying to justify a sexual encounter by claiming that the woman provided consent despite the fact that she was heavily intoxicated, is an extremely flawed argument.

Myths like this need to be dispelled not only so that rape can be reported accurately, but more so that the victim feels safe and secure enough in their decision to come forward with a possible rape charge.

What are your thoughts, can situations exist where rape isn’t rape? Can rape ever have varying degrees to constitute it actually happening?

We have a voice, lets use it.

For more information on rape myths, do check out the Rape Crisis website where accurate and clear information about what does and does not constitute rape is provided.

Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

Today’s post is about something that I feel deserves a great amount of attention. In all honesty, it was not until a dear friend of mine shared a link to a BBC article about last week’s murders in the Indian state of Harayana, that I decided to explore the issue of ‘honour killings’ further.

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Many will accede to the fact that ‘honour killings’ is not news. It has been going on for several decades. However, it remains newsworthy because of the fact that it continues to persist in the 21st century is cause for great concern. According to the BBC Ethics Guide, honour killings are a subset of the broader notion that is an honour crime. By definition, honour crimes involve violence, including murder, committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community.

Just last week, an 18-year old girl and her fiance were brutally killed. By whom? The girls own family. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, Narendar Barak, the victim’s father, showed no remorse after he admitted to beating his daughter to death and dismembering her fiance.

“I have no regrets … not even a little … This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen,” he said.

This case was dubbed a “honour killing” because of the fact that both the victims come from the same caste. As such, they were forbidden by tradition from marrying one another. More so, tradition also dictated that children were not permitted to chose who they marry. Instead, the decision has to be made by their parents. Hence, in order to preserve the purity of their local tradition, murder was the only answer. Violating their rights to life and to be free from torture in some sense was justified, as a necessary evil, when the protection of the entire culture was at stake.

To many this view will seem horrific. However, for the cultures perpetrating these ‘honour crimes’, this view is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is based on their version of morality and behaviour, separate from the notion of universal human rights.

Cultural relativism often conflicts with universal human rights. By definition, cultural relativists ascribe to a morality that is solely governed by culture and nothing else. This is why crimes of honour are often go unnoticed or the perpetrators are granted impunity. These two paradigms are stark opposites and in order to find any resolution to this issue, condemnation of such local culture is not the answer.

In fact, if we have a look at the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of HUman Rights, Article 18 states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Confusingly enough, it also states that,

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Therefore, while these may be rights everyone should enjoy by the sheer fact that we are all human beings, the writing is not always black and white.

Firstly, for cultures that see ‘honour killings’ as an affirmation of morality, human rights are seen as an alien, Westernized concept. Hence, expecting them to comply with a so-called “Western” universal notion of morality – that goes against everything their culture represents – would be rather foolish.

Instead, according to a book entitled, ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women’, “combating crimes of honour cannot mean repudiating the human dignity and rights of all concerned, including the perpetrators of these crimes, their families and communities. Unless one subscribes to the authoritarian view that people should simply be coerced into doing what is good for them; it is necessary to gain their cooperation and support through an internal discourse within the community around cultural norms and institutions associated with these crimes”.

In no way, am I alluding to the fact that the protection of woman should be put on the back-burner while this internal discourse is underway. Practical and legal measures should be taken. After all, ascribing to certain cultural norms and morality does not exempt you from the law of the state, which clearly indicates that murder is a crime, punishable by the judicial system.

However, the question should be one of a long -term strategy – in addition to, not instead of, all that can be done immediately.

What are your views? Can you make an argument for cultural relativism? What can be done to ensure these ‘honour killings’ stop?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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Yes, in Burma It’s Legal For Soldiers to Rape!

For the past 2 years, Burma has been undergoing a series of dramatic political, economic and administrative reforms, in an attempt to democratize. These reforms have gained so much international recognition, with even President Obama praising the Burmese President, Thein Sen for his leadership in moving his country toward democracy.

However, while Burma attempts to move forward, sexual violence against the ethnic minorities is more rampant than ever. It is no secret that the Burmese army has raped innocent ethnic minorities for years. However, it seems a little hypocritical to sell an image of democratization to the world while at the same time violating a woman’s basic right to life and security.

In fact, according to the organisation, Burma Campaign UK, Thein Sen while seen as a reformer spent 14 years on the ruling council of the previous dictatorship, and was one of its most senior members. More so, after the 2010 elections – if they can even be called that – the Burmese army broke its long-standing ceasefires in Shan state and Kachin state. Ever since, the Burma Campaign UK, started receiving a big increase in reports of rape by Burmese army soldiers.

In one of the worst cases according to the Burma Campaign UK, in May 2012, Burmese Army soldiers found Ngwa Mi, a grandmother with 12 children, sheltering alone in a church in Kachin State. About ten troops beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, and gang-raped her over a period of three days in the church.

What is even more horrifying is that the military is exempt from the law and as such, has a license to rape without any fear of prosecution. According to the 2008 Burmese Consitution “places the military outside the purview of the civilian courts and includes an amnesty provision which precludes the prosecution of military perpetrators of crimes, including sexualized violence”.

According to a brilliant blog post written by Phyu Phyu Sann and Akila Radhakrishnan jointly, “recognizing this barrier to combating impunity domestically, if the new Burmese government is sincerely committed to transitioning to democracy, as they say they are, they should ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and grant the court retroactive jurisdiction over crimes in Burma going back to July 1, 2002, the date of the entry into force of the statute”.

The international political community as well has to bear some responsibility. The United Nations, as we all know, does not have the capacity to act alone, and therefore no matter how many reports and investigations it carries out, the situation will unequivocally remain the same. As such, it is the duty of the international community to demand consistent accountability from the Burmese government. No army should have a license to rape, no matter what the circumstance and if a country’s own government is too foolish or stubborn to realize this, it is up to the international community to enforce.

What do you think? What options are civilians left with if their own state allows soldiers to rape? What can save them?

We have a voice, use it.

Is the Death Penalty the Answer?

no-death-penalty-button-blog-13Image Courtesy: paxchristiusa.org

The death penalty has been raised around the world as a sufficient and much needed punishment for the crime of rape. The underlying belief is that such a tough punishment or national stance on rape will lead to diminishing incidences of rape and act as an effective deterrent.

Major human rights organizations, like Amnesty International have campaigned for years against the death penalty which violates one’s fundamental right to life. While I do agree that no court should have the capacity to take away one’s life, I believe the issue is more complex than that alone.

Let us look at China for example. According to a study conducted by US-China Today entitled: Rape in China, only 1 out of 10 cases of rape is likely to be reported. Furthermore, the study concluded that while the majority of us would like to believe that the perpetrators of such assault were strangers, the majority of these crimes were actually committed by someone the victim knew.

In fact, if the death penalty were the punishment for rape, wouldn’t it deter the victim from coming forward especially so if the perpetrator was one of their own family members. The entire system is based on the reporting of the case and who will report a case if the conviction would lead to the death of a father or brother or son?

Also, if you look at the actual laws in place in China, like India, the death penalty is actually the severest of penalties one can receive for rape. While, logically this should deter rapists, crimes against women haven’t gone down. Therefore, the correlation between invoking the death penalty and the consequent result of lower crime rate seems to be ill founded.

Tougher laws alone are not the answer. The problem in China and India is largely a cultural one. Violence against women is rooted in patriarchal gender relations where women are assigned roles based not on their capacity but norms and values that perpetuate male dominance and superiority. The gender inequality is embedded in all levels of the society such as employment, education and social status.

It is easy to look at the death penalty as a plausible solution to years of crimes against women. It seems almost justified in places India and China where rape is so rampant. However, rape has not stopped and it is almost foolish to think it will just because of the imposition of the death penalty.

Firstly, in order to be convicted, crimes of rape have to be reported. In patriarchal societies like India and China scores of rapes go unreported. In fact, the woman is often pressured by the authorities, her family or the attacker himself to recant her statement even if she does have the courage to go forward. Secondly, if no one is willing to listen, how can any rapist be convicted and sentenced to death?

The problem is not the law alone. The real problem lies in the systematic failure to recognize rape as an actual crisis or epidemic as I have put it many times before. It is not considered a serious enough issue and therefore, even asking for the death penalty seems foolish. While it may bring justice for one victim, hundreds of others are still left in the dark.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, what should be focused on is whether the police are serious about such crimes, how quickly the matter is tried in a court and whether there is a system that punishment will be given to those responsible. Every case should not be treated as different but be given the due diligence that it truly deserves.

What do you guys think? Is the death penalty the answer?

We have a voice, use it.

Syria’s War Fought Unjustly

Image Courtesy: www.independent.com.mt

I recently came across an article on the Vanity Fair website: Syria’s Unspoken Crimes. It struck me particularly because of how rape was being used, as a “deliberate tactic to terrorize and subjugate combatants and civilians“. This case is particularly special because usually you hear about wars being waged by a foreign enemy. However, the war in Syria is largely a civil war and the atrocities being committed on the people are often committed by their own government. President Bashar al-Assad’s army itself has been charged with some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity, over the past year.

In university I read a book by Michael Walzer entitled “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations”. He explained that every war is judged twice. The first kind of judgement is adjectival in character. For example, we say a particular war is just or unjust. The second judgement is adverbial, where we would ask ourselves if a war is fought justly or unjustly.

At this point in time, why the war in Syria started is irrelevant but, how it is being fought is of great concern. It should be understood that there are two types of people in a war, the combatants and the civilians and the state exists to defend the rights of these members. Whether it be by luck or sheer patriotic duty, combatants are thrust into war through possibly no choice of their own and forced to give up their basic rights to life and liberty.

Civilians on the other hand, still rely on the state to protect their fundamental rights of liberty and life. In the case of Syria and  the epidemic of rape, these rights are being grossly violated. According to Walzer, a legitimate act of war is one that does not violate the rights of the people against who it is directed and state-sponsored rape certainly cannot qualify as a legitimate act of war.

Rape is a crime in war as in peace, because it violates the rights of the woman who is attacked. Rights, especially a civilian’s rights cannot be set aside, nor can they be balanced in a utilitarian sense against this or that desirable outcome. Simply put, a soldier cannot rape an innocent woman as a means to get information of insurgent or rebel activity that she may or may not be involved with.

Rape should not be used as a means to an end. It may seem that during a war, all rules are thrown out the window and in Syria’s case this may in fact be true. However, wars are largely rule governed. Just because a country is at war does not exempt them from complying with international law, it does not excuse their immoral behavior and it certainly does not make it OK to rape innocent civilians.

What do you guys think? Is a woman’s right to life, security and liberty less important if she is in a war zone? Who should be held accountable if such violence is state-sponsored?

We have a voice, use it.