THE BLOG

Banning Lingerie From Storefronts Won't Solve India's Gang Rape Problem

A string of high-profile gang rapes in India have rocked global headlines in recent months. In late 2012, a teenage girl died after she was brutally attacked by a group of men while riding the bus. Soon after, a British tourist jumped out of her hotel room in New Delhi to escape sexual assault. In June, news spread that an American woman had been gang-raped in northern India. By late August, there was at least one more victim: a photojournalist was gang-raped by five men in the city of Mumbai.

People across the country and around the world have taken to the streets in response to demand that government and community leaders prioritize the safety of women and girls and strengthen rape laws.

One of Mumbai's proposed solutions to stop rape is as troubling as it is bizarre: the Mumbai city council recently banned public displays of mannequins wearing lingerie in an effort to reduce sexual violence against women. According to one government official, these displays "provoke" men to carry out gang rapes.

The Mumbai resolution, passed in June, is a disappointing step backwards for a number of reasons. First, it excuses offenders from exhibiting self-control, and second, it passes blame to the victims of sexual assaults. To suggest that viewing lingerie somehow induces a man to inflict sexual bodily harm against someone else reinforces and validates the idea that men cannot and need not temper their impulses: that instead, women's freedom should be curtailed so that sex offenders don't have to reign in their criminal desires.

This policy approach also lacks any deliverable safety measures for potential targets of rape. Victims do not gain access to additional resources that can empower or physically protect them when a perpetrator strikes. All they can do is avoid any streets with a lingerie storefront -- and hope that any man they come across has not passed one. In this line of thinking, the burden to prevent the rape falls to the victim.

Mumbai's measure reinforces the idea that rape is somehow less reprehensible if a victim is dressed in a certain way. Or even that sexy apparel anywhere, invites violence. This misguided resolution passed in a city that is home to an infamous red light district, where young women are routinely trafficked into the sex trade -- a city that has one of the highest rates of sexual assaults among major Indian metropolises.

Sexual violence is not caused by lingerie and it is not caused by women walking freely in public spaces.

To suggest otherwise reflects the darker cultural undercurrents of any society where rape and other forms of violence against women are endemic. Violence against women, whether in India or here in U.S., stems from a dangerous belief that women are subservient and men have the right to control them.

If India wants to get serious about addressing its gang rape problem, it needs to begin by building a culture that respects all women and a legal system that prioritizes and protects their right to safety.

The women of India -- and the world -- deserve better.

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