Can a Wrist Watch Really Cure India's Rape Problem?

No. (That one’s a gimme.) A watch that texts your friends and family and the police with your location and records video of the event is, on the whole, only a small step in overcoming centuries of patriarchy, misogyny, and governmental and police disregard for the problem. But every little helps.

More importantly, other groups are starting to use technology to prevent, not just report, rape.

The Rape Foundation recently partnered with tech firm Possible to develop Safebook, an app they hope to release by the end of the year. Safebook aims to shift the burden to the friend, the bystander, the person that witnesses assault by creating groups and allowing them to check in on members. Its target demographic is college women, one in five of whom report being sexually assaulted during their four years on campus. Realizing this susceptible group is spending most of its time in the digital world, the partners hope to use social media campaigns to target them where they’re most comfortable—similar to campaigns that have already been successful for gay rights awareness and bullying.

Of course, prevention and reporting do not directly address a culture that views rape as acceptable, but they contribute. As more people and government agencies begin to take the issue seriously, the collective consciousness will start to shift.

On Indian Land, Criminals Can Get Away With Almost Anything

One of the sticking points on the Violence Against Women Act over the last few months has been the extension of jurisdiction for Native American tribal governments to crimes committed on reservations by non-Indians. This article by Sierra Crane-Murdoch for The Atlantic illustrates some of the challenges officials face when confronting crime on tribal land.

In 1978, the Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish stripped tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on Indian land. If both victim and perpetrator are non-Indian, a county or state officer must make the arrest. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim an enrolled member, only a federally certified agent has that right. If the opposite is true, a tribal officer can make the arrest, but the case still goes to federal court.

Even if both parties are tribal members, a U.S. attorney often assumes the case, since tribal courts lack the authority to sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. The harshest enforcement tool a tribal officer can legally wield over a non-Indian is a traffic ticket.

Trigger warning for rape on the full article, but it’s worth reading up on the complexities of this problem, which the U.S. government has essentially constructed for itself.

Houston Takes Action on Rape Kit Backlog

Mayor Annise Parker announced the Southern city’s pile of 6,600 untested sexual assault kits will be gone in 14 months, since Houston will spend $4.4 million in grant funding to have them tested at two private labs. Both of the forensic facilities chosen have already built a reputation for other large backlog projects in New York City and Los Angeles.

This is good news, as rape kit processing leads to a higher arrest rate for rapes.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Under Scrutiny For Abuse of Aboriginal Women

In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that many aboriginal women in British Columbia have been the victims of discrimination, aggressive use of police force, and even sexual assault by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The report, titled “Those Who Take Us Away,” features in depth interviews with 50 aboriginal women along the “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia where numerous aboriginal women have gone missing or have been murdered. Researchers also interviewed 37 family members of missing or murdered women and girls. The women interviewed describe scenes of excessive use of force on girls under the age of 18, abuse of strip searches, and even accusation of rape and beatings.

The RCMP has issued a statement to the effect that, while this is deplorable, no one has actually complained directly to them about these abuses. It’s not hard to imagine that this is because aboriginal women in Canada have grown so accustomed to police abuse that they see nothing to be gained by attempting to lodge a complaint.

Senate Passes Violence Against Women Act

Senators took up a few amendments to the bill. They voted 93 to 5 to include a provision targeting human trafficking, and 100 to 0 on a provision to ensure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible for grant assistance. They rejected amendments by Coburn to consolidate certain Department of Justice programs and to allow grants for sexually transmitted disease tests on sexual assault perpetrators.

Overall, I think it’s good that the bill is now headed to the House. But for the sake of balance, I also think it’s worth considering some reasons Senators may have opposed the bill. A few of them are stupid, like not wanting to extend protection to LGBT people or worrying about fringe cases like a non-citizen falsely accusing his spouse of abuse to gain residency upon their divorce. But some concerns are legitimate, even though I don’t think they’re dealbreakers. For example:

The act’s grants have encouraged states to implement “mandatory-arrest” policies, under which police responding to domestic-violence calls are required to make an arrest. These policies were intended to combat the too-common situation in which a victim is intimidated into recanting an abuse accusation, or officers defer to the “man of the house” and fail to take an abuse claim seriously. But… critics say mandatory-arrest laws can backfire. A 2007 study found that states with such laws saw increases in intimate-partner homicides—perhaps because they made victims, who may have wanted the police to intervene without making an arrest, less likely to report abuse before it could escalate out of control.

But It Wasn't Rape

Trigger Warning for description of rape.

Lydia Cuomo was waiting for her principal to pick her up and take her to her first day of teaching at a Bronx charter school when a drunk off-duty cop pulled a gun on her and forced her to submit to oral and anal sex. He was later convicted—but not of rape, which New York law defines as forced vaginal intercourse only.

Now Cuomo, 26, is fighting back. She’s lending her voice to a legislative effort to change state law to put forced oral and anal sex under New York’s rape statute.

“I feel like essentially I had a silver platter of a rape case,” she told the Daily News. “I had witnesses, I had DNA, I had my own testimony, I had two cops. I had them saying, ‘We admit he sexually assaulted you,’ and I didn’t get the verdict I needed the first time, and that just highlights to me the problem in the system.”

Now, to be clear, Cuomo’s assailant has been sentenced to a combined 85 years to life in prison, so justice has more or less been served. But allowing a narrow definition like this to stand seems like begging for future rapists to go unpunished because their crimes don’t really qualify as “rape”.

Delhi Rape Suspect to be Tried as a Minor

The Juvenile Justice Board has ruled that one of the six men responsible for gang-raping and killing a woman on a bus last month is actually only 17 and must therefore stand trial in a juvenile court.

While this sounds like something that shouldn’t have needed an official ruling, ages in India are not always well-documented:

Although the court based its ruling on the suspect’s school records, its headmaster told BBC Hindi that he could not really be sure of his age.

"There is no concept of producing birth certificates in village schools at the time of admission. People just bring their children and tell us their approximate age.

“We admit a child based on what the parents tell us. We can’t really be sure of his age, but as per the school admission records, he is 17 years and six months old. He could be older than this, but I’m sure he is not younger,” he said.

Based on that evidence, how can he even be sure the suspect is not younger?

In any case, the police plan to challenge this ruling, demanding a bone ossification test as proof of age.

"The Best Interests of Prostitutes"

This profile of a Polk County, Florida Sheriff at The Daily Beast bothers me. It paints the man, Grady Judd, as an unorthodox but well-intentioned demi-hero because he rigorously enforces prostitution laws and frequently posts pictures of the arrested johns online. Witness this glowing excerpt:

Now, despite criticism that his stings wrongly target consensual adults, Judd is happy that his operation has become a national model. More and more communities have been conducting such sweeps, often publicizing the names of johns and prostitutes on the Web, as Judd does. (See here, for example.)

“People say you shouldn’t mess with prostitutes, but they don’t know about some of the mean, nasty folks who try to procure them,” Judd says in his own defense. “We save girls’ lives because they were arrested by us and there wasn’t some weirdo who killed them.”

If you click through to the example, you’ll see that Judd does indeed post pictures not only of johns but of prostitutes. How does that help those women? By exposing them as sex workers, a group many already despise? By shaming them for engaging in sex for money? Or, alternatively, if the Sheriff believes these women engage in prostitution against their will, does posting their mug shots help them break free of forced labor? I just can’t think of any benefit to be gained for prostitutes by posting their images online.

Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that even posting the johns’ mug shots online constitutes a violation of their civil rights, but I suppose that varies from county to county and state to state. I can, though, at least make a devil’s argument for the social good this might do. I can’t say the same thing about posting the prostitute’s pictures.

Also, I do not submit to this idea that prostitutes are better off being outed publicly by the Sheriff’s department because this definitely prevents them from returning to sex work and ultimately being murdered by a “weirdo”. Let’s see some data, Judd.

"Reporting to the Police Was Far More Traumatizing Than the Rape Itself"

Human Rights Watch released a report Thursday that found District of Columbia police had engaged in “callous, traumatizing treatment” of victims of sexual assault.

The 197-page investigation, “Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia,” is based on the testimony of 150 sexual assault survivors, community groups, victims’ advocates, hospital staff, and university counselors, among others. HRW found a consistent pattern of police officers failing to file incident reports, which are required to proceed with an investigation, or classifying serious sexual assaults as lesser or other crimes. Police incident reports could not be found for 35.6 of percent people who, according to hospital records, had reported a sexual assault to the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

Shocking and horrifying. No wonder we have a rape culture.

7-Year-Old Indian Girl Raped in School Bathroom

Sources said that after recess as teachers returned to classes, one of the teachers saw the accused along with the girl. Sources said the principal also questioned the boy and he told her he had come to meet a student.

The girl returned to the class after recess and complained to her teacher of pain and of being “pinched”. The matter was referred to the principal who enquired into the matter along with other teachers.

A doctor later examined her and confirmed that she had been raped. Police have not yet caught the perpetrator.

I can only take comfort in my optimism that the information age will gradually subdue and—in practical terms—eradicate the rape culture that perpetuates this kind of violence. Legislation and enforcement will, of course, play a part, but the patriarchal attitudes and values that allow rape culture to flourish must ultimately crumble under the free exchange of ideas about equality and human worth.

I hope.