We're outraged over India rape cases, but we need deeper discussions about rape culture in America

We're outraged over India rape cases, but we need deeper discussions about rape culture in America
© Getty Images

In the past few years, India has been depicted as the rape capital of the world after a recent series of high-profile rape cases. After nationwide protests erupted after the shocking gang rape of an eight year old girl and the brutal assault and murder of a teenager, India, which has seen a 39 percent increase in reported rapes since rape laws were strengthened a few years ago, has become viewed as hostile territory for women. The news has been met with shock around the world.

Yet, while these incidences have rightly caused an outcry, we ought to use this chance to take a harder look at the realities of rape culture here in the United States.

When sexual assault cases from other countries become widely publicized, they are often utilized in a racist way to paint these countries as “backwards” or inherently misogynistic. Yet, the very same pervasive rape culture exists in the United States. We would be amiss to brashly set this aside as the type of incident that only occurs in other countries.


Sexual harassment, assault, rape and all kinds of gender-based violence happen in our country on a daily basis. The rape culture that led to these rape cases in India, which shocked millions of people, is same kind of rape culture the United States condones through implicit and explicit ways women and girls are objectified for the purposes of pleasure of men and boys.

The United States has seen its share of high profile cases such as the case of Brock Turner, the Stanford University athlete who was famously sentenced to only 6 months in jail after being convicted of rape. But according to CNN, these “slap on the wrist” types of punishments — and as a result, unreported rapes — are much more common than we think.

The sheer number of victims in the U.S. alone are staggering. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 1 in 6 women experience sexual assault in their life time and every 98 seconds, someone is raped in the United States. These are eye-opening statistics, yet they don’t seem to be enough for protests to erupt to pressure our government to do more, or for our society to change its norms.

Immigrants and women of color may find their experience reporting sexual assault much more dangerous or fraught with difficulty. For example, women in the Black community have struggled with a veil of silence that pushes them to ignore or stay quiet about rape and sexual assault. Moreover, the fetishization of Asian American women further contributes to sexual harassment and assault, and the veil of shame and silence which surrounds them.

In fact, studies have found that 56 percent of Filipinas and 64 percent of Indian and Pakistani women in the U.S. have reported experiencing sexual violence during their lifetime — and 21 to 55 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women report having experienced some form of gender-based violence.

Yet, AAPI women are the least likely out of all racial groups to report harassment and assault. And while the #MeToo movement has brought to light the issue of sexual harassment in mainstream workplaces, it has simultaneously left out the narratives of low-income women and women of color.

The problems of rampant abuse of and violence against women won’t end just by us acknowledging its existence. Our top elected officials need to show that they are committed to tackling the issues head on, and dismantling rape culture and the stigma around victimhood through laws that support victims and make it easier to report sexual violence. Yet, they have repeatedly shown us that their goal to protecting women, let alone providing support for the victims of sexual assault and gender based violence.

Over a year into the president’s job, the top position in the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women remains unfilled, while the planned 2018 budget eliminates Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants completely.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a female cabinet member, Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos for second straight year George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Trump, first lady attend special Supreme Court ceremony for Kavanaugh MORE, the Secretary of Commerce, has minimized sexual assault by saying that “women can’t let sexual assault hold them back,” further normalizing violent and dangerous behavior of men towards women.

Yes, the sexual violence that is happening in India is horrific and tragic. No parent should have to bury their child, let alone after such act of evil. But we cannot talk about how horrific the situation is in India — or for that matter, elsewhere in the world — without talking about the situation facing women (especially women of color) right here in the United States.

We have to do more to protect women and children. We could start by making sure that we call our representatives to ensure that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a program that provides funding for women who experience abuse and assault, is reauthorized this year. If Trump’s action thus far is any indication, this will not be a priority for him and his administration.

We need to speak to the conscience of our elected representatives and encourage them to work together and protect and advocate for women not only around the world, but right here. We have the power, and the responsibility, to speak up and create a society where no woman ever has to feel unsafe or silenced due to sexual assault.

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the nation's only organization dedicated to advocacy at the intersection of gender and racial justice for Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls. Sung Yeon is a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed project.