Thoughtful comment on gender and politics

“She has awakened us all by her courage”

Those are the words of the companion of the Indian woman, raped and beaten on a bus in December. The woman died in hospital from her injuries; five men and one juvenile have been arrested and charged.

Yesterday the friend gave an interview to the Indian network, Zee TV. After suffering such a brutal attack, it seems they did not receive decent support from either the Indian people, or the authorities. He and his friend sat on the side of the road for 30 minutes trying to get help after they’d been thrown off the bus where the attack took place. They were naked and she was bleeding profusely, yet no one stopped. When the police did arrive he said they wasted time arguing about jurisdiction, and then took them to a hospital that was far away, when there was another nearby.

The case has sparked national outcry in India, with campaigners calling for better protection for women against violence. The intensity and frequency of the protests has clearly rattled both politicians and police. In the days before Christmas Indian police used baton charges, tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters demonstrating against sexual violence. There is no doubt this brave young woman has awakened a nation.

But what about our nation? It’s easy to criticise India’s record on violence against women, and the Western press has certainly taken this opportunity to do so. Recent comment pieces in the liberal press include:

Why is India so bad for women?‘ and ‘The worst places in the world for women: India

But can we honestly say we’re doing everything in our power to protect women in the UK from violence, sexual assault and rape? According to the charity Rape Crisis only 15% of serious sexual offences are ever reported to the police, and of the rape offences that are reported, fewer than 6% result in a conviction. That means that 85% of victims do not feel able to come forward and that there are potentially thousands of serious offenders out there, free to assault other women.

Clearly India faces a grave challenge when it comes to protecting women, but this is not an issue that us Westerners should feel comfortable about either. Last year Thames Valley police refused to give funding for a new  Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Reading, despite the nearest SARC being over 20 miles away in Slough. SARCs are the only one-stop service where victims of sexual violence can get medical care, have a forensic examination, and if they wish, report the incident to the police. Funding from local authorities to organisations working with domestic violence and victims of sexual abuse fell from £7.8 million in 2010-11 to just £5.4 million last year, and the charity Refuge said it’s funding has been cut 50%. And it’s not just a funding issue; cases like that of Layla Ibriahim, who was jailed after reporting rape, show that much work needs to be done with police officers and prosecutors to ensure when people do report sexual violence they are given the care and support they deserve.

Clearly there is no room for complacency on the issue of violence against women either at home or further afield. I hope the courage of the woman in India awakens the UK to a few home truths and inspires us to do more; to campaign for properly funded specialist services, to get more training for the police and prosecutors, to make justice the rule and not the exception for victims.

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