I'm the Senior Trauma Therapist for the DC Rape Crisis Center. I'm passionate about PTSD, trauma and sexual violence.
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My views are my own and don't necessarily reflect the views of DCRCC.
Yesterday I had the honor of sitting on a panel hosted by the South Asian Society at Georgetown University. The name of the panel discussion was Women and Rape Culture in South Asia, and featured Dr. Ipshita Chanda, a professor at Georgetown, and Dr. Bulbul Tiwari, an expert on feminism and Bollywood cinema, and was moderated by Dr. Matthew Rudolph, a professor of South Asian Studies.
At first, I was pretty anxious, since I’m not really an expert on South Asia. I interned at an organization that served survivors of domestic violence from South Asia, but that was 5 years ago. Plus, my employer is understandably pretty adamant that when representing DCRCC, I stick with the agency’s expertise, which is obviously somewhat more local.
However, the panel really found a wonderful balance in each other. Turns out, no one else on the panel was familiar with the term “rape culture,” and found it offensive and clumsy. This was a good reminder the phrase is jargon of the sexual violence movement, so if someone isn’t in the movement, it sounds odd at best. The moderator suggested using “gender violence” instead, and I stepped in to explain why those are not synonyms and to offer a definition of “rape culture,” “sexual violence” and “gender violence.”
What I learned is that when these professionals heard the term “rape culture,” they felt that this was how Americans were describing the problem of sexual violence in South Asia. As in, we are denigrating their culture. I was horrified that I might be offending them and really glad to be able to explain that “rape culture” is a term that I usually use in reference to my own culture, and that is has become a way to empower survivors and others to name things that facilitate, promote and excuse sexual violence and prevent justice and support for victims and survivors.
Dr. Tiwari shared about the representation of women in Bollywood cinema, and offered some meditation on the idea of consent in arrange marriage—as in, should it be defined differently? Is it possible?
Dr. Chanda emphasized the importance of understanding the diversity of India, that there is no one Indian culture, and reflected on how the caste system is still a heavy influence in sexual violence in India. She also noted that she and Dr. Tiwari are Indian and that limited the panel’s discussion of South Asia (she didn’t really have to mention that I wasn’t too helpful there).
Overall, the 50-minute panel felt a fascinating introduction to the topic, and left me wanting to follow the movement against sexual violence in India more closely.