India's Rape Crisis Is a Real Sex Scandal

The real sex scandal is happening in places where an alarming number of men think it's OK to rape women and the world does little about it.

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Indians sing devotional songs during a gathering to mourn the death of a 23-year old rape victim in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.

An Indian court has declared a violent punishment for an unspeakable act of violence against a woman there. Four men, convicted of brutally raping a woman on a bus and then torturing her, destroying her insides so savagely that she died from her internal injuries, have been sentenced to die by hanging.

She had been just 23, a student from a small village who attended college at great familial sacrifice in hopes of bringing her family out of poverty. That dream ended when a gang of men decided to rape and murder her on a moving bus.

The entire case is so horrifying it seems that it must be some anomaly of human behavior. The grisly calls for the death penalty – complete with posters of stick figures and nooses – showcased another violent mob mentality, albeit one in defense of the victim. The episode is so emotionally draining and despicable that we desperately hope to see it as some sort of freak event, a rare case of misogyny and anger.

Would that it were so. A study published in The Lancet Global Health reports that one in 10 men in Asia admits to having committed rape. And when the pool of victims is expanded to include partners, the percentage jumps to 24 percent. Nearly half of the men interviewed in the countries (Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka) acknowledged raping more than one woman. The word "rape" was not used in the study; instead, men were asked if they had ever forced someone to have sex against her (or in some cases, his) will. And the numbers correspond with reports by women.

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If such stunning numbers were reported for some other social ill – for example, if 24 percent of a group of people admitted selling drugs or abusing children or committing hate crimes other than rape – there would be a public outcry. There would be commissions appointed, international monitors assigned and more money would be directed at prosecution of the criminals and treatment and counseling for the victims. Instead, the study has been a mere footnote to the horrific stories like the one in India (where gang rape is an ongoing threat).

The biggest reason the men gave for their criminal behavior was entitlement. They simply felt they, as men, had a right to have sex with a woman or women. The next reasons were "entertainment" and punishing the woman.

The level of hatred inherent in those reasons is mind-boggling. How dare a woman say no to a man? And she must be taught that her role is to serve men. That attitude is appalling when it comes to sex and rape, and contributes to a broader view of women as secondary to men.

This country has been preoccupied by what are commonly (and wrongly) linked as "sex scandals" because they somehow involve sexual activity. A congressman who had an affair, another who texted crude sexual photos of himself, a mayor accused of serial sexual harassment, a former attorney general who broke the laws he once enforced by paying women for sex – all of these are relentlessly dissected as "sex scandals." The real sex scandal is happening in places where an alarming number of men think it's OK to rape women. And the bigger scandal is that the world is barely reacting to it.

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