What’s Up With All the Rape Talk?

From India to Ohio, advocates say all the rape news means things are actually getting better.

Posted: 04/05/2013 02:04 PM EDT
India rape protests

Although there is nothing new about the crime of rape, there is definitely something going on with media coverage of rape cases lately. Dispatches from Delhi, Bredasdorp, South Africa, Rio de Janeiro and Steubenville, Ohio, have all relayed stories of horrifying assaults on women.

But if the deluge of rape coverage is making you feel like “we’re all doomed,” some say the increased rape coverage proves that, instead of indicating a global epidemic, shared outrage is spreading.

“There seems to be a hopeful aspect of all these stories and that is that there seems to be a much higher level of concern amongst policy makers, amongst the public … that these cases are touching a nerve, raising concerns that previously have not been there,” Human Rights Watch Women’s Rights Division Director Liesl Gerntholtz told BET.com.

And public concern is exactly what catapulted these stories about rape and the outrage over these stories to the international stage.

After the news broke about the gang rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, Indian citizens flooded the streets in massive protest, calling for justice to be served. The Steubenville, Ohio, story broke after hacktivist group Anonymous published damning videos of the teens involved and 17-year-old Anene Booysen’s rape and murder in South Africa garnered condemnation from the country’s president, the United Nations, members of South Africa’s parliament and the country’s biggest labor union.

However, given that there are so many differences in the cases, from age to ethnicity; even right down to the continents they occurred on, the question of whether there is a global “rape culture” or whether there is something universal that perpetuates these kind of attacks still lingers.

For Gernholtz, the issue is power.

“[Rape] is often about men needing to feel power so looking for people that they are able to victimize that makes them feel more powerful," she said. "I think in probably most rapes, you’re going to find some element that is about anger and power, about individual women or women that represent groups of women.”

The concept, so universal and yet hard to define in many cases, is why many advocates prefer to focus on educating the public about the severity of rape and sexual assault rather than questioning why these attacks continue to happen.

Part of that education is changing the way that mass media portrays the crime in television and film. In the U.S., RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) says it has partnered with major television networks to help shape the direction of certain show episodes that broach the topic of rape.

“It’s vitally important that they [media] get it right and I think, by and large, they do,” RAINN founder and president Scott Berkowitz told BET.com. “I think that both the news coverage of rape and the entertainment portrayal of rape have gotten tremendously better in recent years and for the most part, represent the crime pretty accurately.”

However, despite all of the staging of equality that may go on in entertainment, Gernholtz says that until women truly find themselves on equal footing with men, violence will continue to be a problem.

“Even in developed countries, men tend to still earn more than women. You have men who are much more likely to have senior positions in organizations…” she said. “So I think that inequality is a big driver of violence. Until we are able to address inequality, I think we are still likely to see violence against women.”

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(Photo: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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