Less than a week after the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign — which included hundreds of events demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world — ended, an all too frequent event happened in India — a rape. I’ve blogged about rape before, but this attack captured the attention and outrage of the world.
For more than two weeks, thousands of citizens in India and around the world have protested the brutal gang rape and torture of a 23-year-old Indian woman (called “braveheart” in many news stories) while she and her male companion were riding a bus in New Delhi after leaving a movie theater. She ultimately died from injuries suffered during the brutal assault.
We’ve all heard the tragic story but are unable to comprehend the horrific details. And we can’t avoid the ugly truth — violence against women is a horrendous, appalling, and pervasive reality that has placed an indelible stain on the world. The crime sparked national and international outrage, vigils, and demands to end the culture of rape. It empowered people to stand up and demand action and change from the Indian government and police.
And now, weeks after the horrific event, the men accused of the gang rape have been formally charged with rape, murder, and kidnapping.
Unfortunately, rape is a systemic problem throughout India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, and in 2010, more than 24,000 rapes were reported. And there are undoubtedly many rapes that go unreported — mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, or friends who become the targets of violence that can end in murder or suicide.
Who can grasp the inexplicable violence directed at women and girls worldwide and the state- and government-sanctioned evasion of protection, responsibility, and justice? India, like many nations, has vowed to take action to make women safer and provide better protection against violence — a daunting challenge in a culture and world that do not value women.
In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point. And survivors of violence need support. This year, one of AAUW’s Community Action Grantees is Safe Connections, which provides counseling and support services to women and teens in the St. Louis metropolitan area who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse. Another grantee, the African Services Committee’s Project Aimée, serves low-income African immigrant survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in New York City with a combination of legal services, education, and advocacy.
The need for these kinds of programs has grown as violence against women becomes more visible throughout the world. But the shocking tragedy in India could be a turning point. In order to stop this ever-increasing trend of violence, women need action, not empty promises.
We all need to keep the pressure on governments to put into action promises made to eliminate violence against women. Do it for yourself. Do it for a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, or friend. You can make your voice heard on Capitol Hill by urging your legislators to support the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. It’s long overdue. But laws can’t change hearts or minds. That must come from within. What can you do in your community to stop violence against women?
Going to a movie and riding a bus should not cost a woman her life — a woman known as “braveheart.” May her death not be in vain.