When crowds of young women out celebrating New Year’s Eve in Bangalore, India, reported being groped, harassed, and subject to other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, the home minister of the state of Karnataka, G. Parameshwara, said in a televised interview on Monday that the women themselves were to blame for dressing “like Westerners… So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”
Video footage of some of the women assaulted on Dec. 31 show them crying out for help, fighting off attackers, and being assaulted by men.
Another government official in the region, Abu Azmi, an assemblyman from the state of Maharashtra, also pointed a finger at the women who had been assaulted as the guilty party in the incident. Azmi said in a televised statement that, in an attempt to look “fashionable and modern,” women are in fact appearing in public looking all but “nude” — again, making the ridiculous accusation that the women essentially brought the sexual harassment and groping upon themselves.
Experts on sexual and gender-based violence emphasize that victims are never to blame for such assaults and that how a person is dressed can never be seen as permission to violate that person.
“A common rape myth in the United States is that women invite or deserve rape if they dress in a certain way — clearly, this myth is also present in India,” Zoe Peterson, PhD, an associate professor of psychological sciences and the director of the Sexual Assault Research and Education Program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, tells Yahoo Style. “There is no behavior on the part of a victim that justifies sexual assault. Further, it is ridiculous to suggest that women are sexually assaulted because they dressed in revealing or skimpy clothing.”
Peterson continues, “Obviously some women are assaulted and harassed — in the U.S. and in India — even when they are dressed very conservatively. And most men do not rape women even when the women are dressed provocatively. It also is likely that the women who were involved in the incident over New Year’s had worn those very same ‘Western’ clothes at other times and were not sexually assaulted. Thus, the only logical conclusion is that the women were assaulted not because of their clothing but because on New Year’s they were unlucky enough to be in the presence of sexual perpetrators.”
Sejal Singh, a policy organizer with the student-led, gender-based violence activist and advocacy group Know Your IX, agrees. “The only people responsible for sexual assault and groping are the perpetrators themselves,” Singh tells Yahoo Style. “Sexual assault is absolutely never OK, excusable, or ‘deserved.’ It doesn’t matter what a victim wears or who they are; they deserve to have their bodily autonomy respected.”
She adds: “It’s appalling to see powerful men all over the globe — from Bangalore to London to New York — trying to divert blame from the people who commit sexual assault to the victims themselves. Instead of blaming women for how they’re dressed, politicians should be working to make sure women can participate in public life free from assault. Blaming victims or Western dress is just another way to sweep widespread sexual assault under the rug.”