According the to late M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and author, evil can be defined as “militant ignorance.” According to Peck, an evil person is consistently self-deceiving, and projects his or her evils onto specific targets while being apparently normal with everyone else.
I cannot think of a more striking example of militant ignorance than society’s attitude toward rape. When a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi in 2012, a prominent Indian politician questioned why she was out so late, and suggested that victims of rape may have invited attacks on themselves because of the clothes they were wearing or because of their behaviour.
The physiotherapy student later died of her injuries. The perpetrators of the rape, meanwhile, blamed the victim. If she had not been in a certain place at a certain time, they said, she would not have been raped (they in fact lured her onto a bus they had hijacked for a joyride). If she had not resisted, she would still be alive. If she had not fought for her life, they would not have killed her. It was her own fault for being out so late when she should have been at home, in her kitchen.
“Rapes take place also because of a woman’s clothes, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places,” said the politician, a prominent female member of the Nationalist Congress Party. “Girls should be very careful about what they wear and at what time they move out in the city. Their body language should not invite attention of the potential rapists lurking around in the streets.”
The reaction to her comments was immediate and national. Thousands of Indians took to the streets in protests against the prevalence of rape and sexual assault in India. Women carried signs declaring they had a right to wait at a bus stop without fear of being raped or molested. They had a right to dress they way they wanted.
Very little of this addressed the real problem, which is the rapist. If a woman dresses up to go out she has a reasonable expectation of being admired; it is not be reasonable for her to assume she will be raped. The rapist is committing an act of unspeakable evil, no matter where the girl is or what she is wearing. To assume physical and sexual dominance over her is to project his own evil onto her.
India is not the only country where such attitudes prevail. As I was preparing this column I read study after study about sexual assault, and I was appalled by how high the percentage was of people (and not only men) who feel that the woman is at least partially responsible for her own rape. Was she flirting? Was she dressed provocatively? Did she get into a man’s car? Did she go to his apartment?
I resent the implication that men are helpless — that we must rape — in such circumstances. God made the female body pleasing to the man, and vice versa, and most men are not “potential rapists lurking around in the streets.”
Societies around the world must confront their own invincible ignorance as far as rape and sexual assault are concerned. One need only look at the situation in Canada, with its thousands of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, to know that something not right is going on. A National Inquiry into the situation would shed some light on the problem and go some way toward educating the population. Is it these women’s fault that they have gone missing or have been murdered?
M. Scott Peck believed that evil could be treated, but as long as women are being blamed for being who they are, invincible ignorance will prevail. As far as rape and sexual assault are concerned, it’s a societal problem as much as an individual’s. The rapist is individually responsible for his evil, but society is responsible for the systemic abuses that have placed women in such a vulnerable position in the first place.