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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gang rape, aggravated outrage of modesty or more than meets the eye?

"For most folks, no news is good news; for the press, good news is not news." - Gloria Borger


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(all pictures from Sexually Oblivious Rhino, HT @GenkiGenki)

A post by Robin Rheaume on the AWARE blog decried a recent case where 5 boys sexually assaulted a girl ("factually rape"), and instead of being convicted of rape the boys were slapped with the lesser conviction of "aggravated outrage of modesty".

Muhammad Shafie Ahmad Abdullah, Mohd Sadruddin Azman, Lim Boon Tai, Rishi Mohan and Mohamed Firdaus Roslan will now get 3.5-5 years and 5-8 strokes of the cane each (rape gets you up to 20 years).

The parents being out, they had gotten the girl's number from a friend and called her over. She had come, even though she had not known any of them. They drank lots of alcohol (she had 5 cups) and she then had consensual sex with one of the 5. Later, all 5 decided to have sex with her.

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The speculated reason (according to The New Paper) was that the victim was partly to blame for what happened to her - what is commonly called "victim-blaming".

Now, what is commonly labelled "victim-blaming" (where rape is concerned) is really a conflation of several issues, mainly:

i) if the victim should (or could) have done something to avoid being raped
ii) if the victim incited the rape (i.e. whose fault it was)
iii) how to prevent future rapes
iv) what causes rape (e.g. if it is about sex or power)

Strictly speaking, only ii) [and i), depending on how you frame it] should be treated as "victim-blaming", but too often i), iii) and iv) are dragged in (which is bad if you want to protect other women from rape). For example, it is incontrovertible to say that you should watch your alcohol intake if you don't want funny things to happen to you, but overzealous feminists sometimes pounce on that as victim-blaming.

In this case, happily, there was no conflation by the AWARE writer, though [s]he was responsible for the infelicity of expression that is: "It seems the victim was guilty of drunk driving a vulva".

The example of drunk driving Rheaume refers to was brought up by a lawyer The New Paper spoke to: drunk drivers are deemed responsible for their actions. I do agree that this is not an entirely relevant analogy; drunk drivers are responsible for what they do not just for the sake of deterrence (i.e. so people won't get drunk and drive and then knock people down) but because they are hurting other people. Whereas in this case, if you get drunk and then get raped, you are the one getting hurt. So it doesn't seem quite true that drunk drivers are held responsible for their actions (despite alcohol making them effectively a person with diminished volition and thus responsibility) because they knew what might happen when they started drinking.

I do disagree with Rheaume's analogy that we do not hold the victim responsible when a man gets drunk, wanders into a blind ally and then gets beaten up and robbed. This is because people do not typically consent to getting beaten up and robbed, but people do typically consent to having sex every day. Not always in a straightforward manner and yes, lubricated by alcohol too, no less.

Intrigued by this case, I read up more about it (or at least what was reported in the popular press), and the more I read the more suspicious it became.

1) Consent

For one, take the issue of consent. Consent is an extremely fuzzy variable to evaluate (and kept deliberately so). If nothing else, many women still subscribe to the view that "If she says yes, then she's no lady", so men can't entirely be blamed for not taking "no" to mean "no"; when the lines between "yes", "maybe" and "no" is so fine, it is no surprise that there will always be confusion about which side of the lines one is on.

Indeed, this case itself illustrates the nebulous and shifting nature of consent:

In the room, Lim asked the victim to kiss him, and pushed her onto a mattress on the floor.

Lim lay on top of her and persisted in his sexual advances despite the victim's attempts to push him away.

"The victim was feeling tired and her head was very heavy whilst resisting him," said DPPOh.

In the end, she gave in and allowed Lim to have sex with her.

So we can see that "no" became "yes" (probably stopping in the "maybe" stage in-between). If you have sex with a boy you have just met the same night (after some de rigueur protest), while his 4 friends are outside, it is not unreasonable for the 4 friends to think that you will not be averse to consenting to having sex with them as well (even if you might similarly [pretend to] protest at the start). Especially if you know that she had voluntarily come over, drunk alcohol and had sex with one of you despite having a boyfriend (this case gets more and more interesting, doesn't it?)

Someone: she probably has a history lor
thats why her number is passed ard like tht.

Furthermore, when she was being assaulted later, she:

"lay still" throughout... the girl never resisted, but only lay down "with her eyes closed and never said anything""

While absence of objection does not necessarily indicate consent (Human Organ Transplant Act, Medishield and CDAC/Mendaki/SINDA contributions aside), if I wanted someone to stop doing something terrible to me, I would surely voice out my objections at at least one point.

2) Misleading behavior

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Yet, this is not the only relevant or suspicious aspect of this case. Consider:

The victim drank alcohol voluntarily, gave a massage to one of the boys who attacked her and entered the bedroom voluntarily... "she had gone to the flat even though it was close to midnight and she had no idea who she was meeting"...

"The behaviour of the victim was also unusual. She acted in certain ways. It is not fair to ignore what she has done.

Her conduct, her actions did create a certain impression on the minds of the accused persons. We cannot ignore this"

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If you act as if you have Weapons of Mass Destruction, you cannot blame others for thinking that you have them.
If you act as if you're trying to make a nuclear bomb, you likewise cannot blame others for thinking that you have them (especially if you have abundant oil reserves).
And if someone asks you if you have a gun in your pocket or are just happy to see her, you cannot blame her for executing a swift jujitsu chop if you make a sudden movement with your 'gun'.

Similarly, plausible deniability aside, a reasonable person would have to admit that she gave the impression of being, at the very least, not closed to the idea of hanky-panky that night.

3) Lack of injury

Other suspicious bits include the testimony of a gynaecologist:

When asked by lawyer Mr Adrian Wee if her medical observations were consistent with a victim of sexual assault, [Gynaecologist Nurhidayati Mohamed Suphan] replied: “There were no obvious clinical signs”.

She also said that it was possible that therewas no bleeding at all...

Furthermore, the convicteds' testimony was that they stopped "after they realised that the girl was bleeding", which is something that you would not typically expect of rapists - if they know that they're raping someone, why would the sight of blood stop them? Also, according to the prevalent feminarchal theory of rape, since rape is about power and not sex, the sight of blood would presumably egg the guys on rather than stop them. Also, contrary to Rheaume's assertions, the girl was "not physically restrained".

4) Reduction of charges

One might ask why the prosecutor reduced the charges from rape to aggravated outrage of modesty. Again here, there is much to question:

It is unclear what emerged during her testimony behind closed doors, but the charges were reduced after defence representations to the Attorney-General's Chambers.

It was mentioned in open court on Thursday that the defence produced the girl's blog during the trial. It also emerged that the prosecution had no plans to tender a 'victim impact' statement, typically submitted to show the effects of the crime on the victim.

The blog extracts and her testimony would be very interesting, and perhaps the lack of a victim impact statement means there wasn't much impact (add to this the fact that the one who called the police was her boyfriend, which makes us suspect that he was upset that his girlfriend cheated on him).

A Twitter contact's altogether harsher take:

"Though I think the 5 bastards did not deserve to have their charges reduced, the girl IS TO be blamed as well.

Most likely she KNEW what MAY happen, but went ahead with it anyway, for the thrill of it. And then, she can't accept what she did.

"cheebye itchy" is a very apt description. She subjected herself to be caught in that situation in the first place..

I've always supported Aware and their takes in many instances. But Aware's take on this gang rape issue is beyond my comprehension.

As a person who was once caught in a similar situation, I do not think I am being unsympathetic towards the girl.

She could have LEFT/RAN/TURNED BACK at the doorstep. But she went in! No one forced her at that point of time!

Then lagi best, SHE DRANK. Shots after shots. She CONSENTED to having sex with the 1st guy. Eh WTF is wrong with her?!

Then after that, go back, call boyfriend, cry father cry mother. Unless she has an IQ of <40, she should have saw it coming. Retard. If someone comes to me & goes "you've never been raped, you don't know how it feels! you unsympathetic bitch!" I'm gonna break his/her face. What makes you think I don't know? I know it better than you do! It takes time to get over for sure, but CONSENTING to having sex with the 1st guy = leading the rest on! They are all MEN for God's sake! What did she expect? Play masak masak? She wanted it lah pls! Then after that act ke lian. Must be scared kena ditch by the boyfriend or kicked out of the house by her parents. Sorry excuse of a woman. I think the girl wanted to try out being part of an orgy, but regretted it & then screamed murder, said she was gang raped." Postscript: Another strike against the "power not sex" theory of rape:

The rest of the guys just wanted to "enjoy" themselves.

They had earlier made plans to sleep with any girl who turned up at their friend's flat...

He said he thought the girl was enjoying herself at some points...

Lim later told his friends what had happened [that he had had sex with her].

"We were all jealous and also wanted to (have sex with) her," Shafie added.

"We asked (Lim) to plan so that we could all (have sex with her) and he agreed."
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