India rape is a reminder that women travel in a perilous man's world

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times (June 5, 2013)

The gang rape of a 30-year-old American woman in India on Tuesday is the latest horrific reminder that women travel in a more dangerous world than men.

The woman was visiting a mountainous tourist area in northern India when she found herself stranded. She hitched a ride with three young men in a truck who drove her to a remote spot, took turns sexually assaulting her and then dumped her by a bridge in the wee hours of the morning. It’s easy to say she was foolish to hitchhike in a country where there have recently been several highly-publicized attacks on women, but that does not in the slightest justify the way the woman was treated.

The Indian justice system’s failure to crack down on rapists is appalling. In some cases, officials there have even pressured the victim to marry her attacker in the interest of social harmony. That kind of sick, misogynistic thinking, unfortunately, is not unique to India. Women take the blame and the burden for rape in many traditional societies. They are forced into marriages or murdered by their own fathers and brothers for bringing shame on their families.

Of course, it is not just in countries where tribalism and religious fundamentalism rule that women risk being raped by men who think they can get away with it. The United States military is proving to be a risky environment for females. Recent reports put the number of rapes among service members in the thousands annually. 

The brilliantly acerbic comedian Louis C.K. does a riff on the subject that is funny, but sadly true. He says the bravest thing a woman ever does is get in a car and go on a date with a man. “How do women still go out with guys, when you consider that there is no greater threat to women than men?” the comedian asks in his standup routine. "We're the No. 1 threat to women! Globally and historically, we’re the No. 1 cause of injury and mayhem to women.” 

Most men are not so bad, of course. Most American guys have learned to treat women decently. Still, there are far too many men in this country and in every country who look at women as property to be exploited, not as co-equal human beings. Luckily for women in the U.S., Europe, Australia and a few other places, the law is usually on their side. 

I have a peripatetic daughter who has traveled the world on her own – from South America to Europe to India – and has yet to encounter any really bad men. The biggest creeps she ran into were in France, oddly enough, and she learned effective put-downs to quell their advances. But she knows the world is different for her than it is for her brother. She has to be on guard all the time. A sense of peril travels with her and every woman wherever they go.

Someday, I hope, this will not be true, but, for now, this is a man’s world and a woman must be brave and smart to navigate a safe path through it.