Why We Will Always Write about Rape

And why journalists should rethink the way they write about it

Image for representation purposes only

A few weeks ago, there was a report about Maneka Gandhi’s comments regarding rapes against women in India at a gathering of journalists in Sweden. She said, “India ranks among the lowest four countries in the world in terms of rape cases and Sweden is at the top.”

She supported this claim by saying that in India, we have a zero tolerance attitude towards rape; that we write about it every day and that the media of other countries do not report it in a manner like ours. There are a few things that are problematic about what she said:

a. If rape is not such a widespread problem in India, why do we write about it every day? Surely this crime must be committed very often for it to be reported by the media on a daily basis.

b. If our attitude is one of zero tolerance, why do so many of the accused manage to escape punishment? Or worse, why do so many cases not get filed at all? And why does it continue to remain such a widespread issue?

c. Since when did rape statistics become an international competition? Should we pat ourselves on our backs for scoring so well? Or should we console ourselves with the thought that we could be much worse off?

I wanted to write about all these things when I read the report. But I did not because I had written an article about women’s safety just a few days before. “Will people want to read about rape again?” I thought to myself.

The problem is that, I, as a young woman and feminist, even considered that thought for a second.

It has been four long years since the Nirbhaya case. While there has been an increase in the filing of cases, the reportage of rape in the media, and the general levels of awareness about this problem, there also seems to be an increasing sense of fatigue when it comes to this issue. We’ve become used to seeing reports and investigations of heinous crimes against women, children, and men every day in the papers. But we’re only “seeing” them; we are not reading them. In fact, we’re tired of reading them. We don’t have the energy to be outraged anymore. It’s only the “rarest of rare” cases or unfortunate stories of friends and loved ones that seem to shake us now.

How did we get to this point? The fact is that rape stories are not easy reads. They’re not the frivolous listicle you want to read at 9 o’clock after a hard day at work. They’re not those relatable and funny videos you would want to share on your friends’ Facebook walls. They’re also not that scathing opinion piece that you can read in the morning so that you sound smart during discussions about current affairs. Rape will never be “interesting”.

Rape stories are normally 400 to 500 words of very factually described atrocities. They describe the relationship between the perpetrator and victim. They go into details about the age, occupation, and background. But this is not all. Sometimes, an entire inch of news print is dedicated to a description of the injuries that the victim has suffered. Or worse, the report will carry an account of the various gut-wrenching, repulsive things that the perpetrator did to the victim.

Over the years, reports about rape have become more and more detailed. It can be argued that reportage is only reflecting what is occurring in reality, that the atrocities are getting more violent and that victims are more open to talk about the abuse they have suffered. It can also be said that the media is sensationalising news about sensitive topics because they think it will sell.

Whether this is a step forward for journalism is debatable, but what is certain is that this style of writing turns off readers. It has desensitised them to the extent that every time they see a headline with the R word in it, they say, “Not another story about rape,” in their heads.

Perhaps it is time that we, journalists, change the way we talk about rape. Rather than focusing on the details of what happened to victims, we need to lay more emphasis on factors such as the lack of policing or the easy availability of date rape drugs. Rather than knowing about the injuries a victim sustained, I would prefer to know whether there were any bystanders present and whether they even batted an eyelid. Rather than knowing what the victim was wearing and what she was doing out late, maybe journalists could ask the perpetrators what made them think they could commit such crimes and why they thought they could get away with it.

We need to continue to report about and discuss rape. We should because the word rape is used outside of the context that it is meant to be used for; thereby, reducing the seriousness of the word. We need to because rape jokes are cracked with such nonchalance. We have to because rape against men is still not considered a problem worth speaking about. We must so that the conversation about safety and consent remains alive, until our country and the world becomes a safer place to live in.