News Laundry published an aggressive, confrontational letter to the woman allegedly assaulted by Tarun Tejpal. Pandemonium ensued. Having written extensively about the other side of media reporting on the Tejpal case, I want to put my views on record, mostly to prevent defending them over and over in 140 letter tweets.
Is it right to question a rape victim?
In this case, yes, I think. If the victim has chosen the court of public opinion, then the court of public opinion must question her to form an informed opinion. I think it is morally wrong and a misuse of protections provided to rape victims if the anonymity required for a rape victim, and a default of believing her word (which, to the best of my knowledge is a requirement from the judge, not the common man) is misused by a person to provide one sided accusations against a named person who cannot respond to them. Particularly when she did not file a case at all and simply did an anonymous attack. Of course if there are questions about her narrative, they must be asked before the slander is allowed to proceed. Not even a court of law, which in theory believes the victim, would issue a sentence without clearing doubts raised.
Is it right to accuse the victim?
No. Not unless the accuser can prove they know what really happened and that it was a false accusation. Raising doubt is one thing, but to proclaim that the victim is somehow pretending or deliberately slandering Tarun Tejpal is about as substantiated or ethical as the media accusations war against Tarun Tejpal – in other words, not.
Raising doubts is one matter, but because doubts raised have no answer in the public domain is not good enough reasons to issue conclusions unilaterally.
Why did you not…..?
Blame or guilt for doing or responding in a certain way or not is a very judgmental way of engaging with an issue as sensitive as this. People are different. There is no telling who will do what and why or what other factors weighed on their mind. There are many kinds of rape that leave the victim confused whether they were violated or not, till they can process their experience and find the clarity and courage to identify what their wish was and whether it was respected in the moment. So entering a lift second time with rapist can have all kinds of reasons ranging from “consensual” to factors influencing the victim’s mind in that moment beyond those described n the email days later.
Transferrence of blame
The writer of the letter appears to hold the victim responsible for the actions of a hell of a lot of people. And we are including heads of media organizations, journalists, social media influencers and more whom she probably never even heard of.
Anyone can release a story to media. Many have enough connections to have the story spread among journalists. A woman who feels wronged may adopt any means she feels may get her revenge. For the record, I totally support women who go after those who abuse them and nail them by all means at their disposal. If I cheered rape victims bobbitizing their rapists, this one is a no-brainer. If victim had the reach to destroy her rapist, her trying is totally legit in my eyes.
But should it have succeeded? The part of me that cheers for a woman going at her abuser says “at least some”. But the complete abdication of responsibility toward neutral reporting by media? That going away makes this issue far more serious than an individual crime. Media is the eyes and ears of the nation, and this was organized schizophrenia.
The bottom line is that media and jornalists had formal jobs to do, which included verifying, having a neutral perspective, and so on, which for reasons unexplained, media chose to completely abandon and take her every word and magnify it and project it to the whole country as a fact so grave, any questions raised about it were an assault on womankind. It was unprofessional. It was irresponsible, and it was something the victim could not bring about unless all these people were sending her their monthly salary and so on.
Individuals will do what they will. Be it right or wrong. Main thing is for our processes to be robust enough to allow each person access to justice. Victim and accused included. Read again. Access to justice. Not “total sanction to do whatever you want”, as knee jerk media IQ is likely to take it.
I do understand the anger driving that letter. I feel that too. Though I blame the media and not the victim. I feel angry that in a country where horrendous crimes against women require the creation of such unequal protections, they are so frivolously exploited by those with the power to spin pretty words and spout theories, but feminism never said that women are always right and men are always wrong and women never lie and to question a woman means misogyny. To me feminism is about fairness. In this case, it was trampled by the side running a slander campaign in the name of justice. I am angry because I care about women’s rights and the conditions they face, not just whatever the hot rape of the moment is.
I also understand that every human on the planet suffers violation at some point or the other. Be it physical, sexual, financial, political, whatever. When we speak of rights movements, we are talking about injustices unfairly stacked against the victims creating an all pervading handicap, not choosing our favorite victims and going guns blazing at every single wrong against them. It is about inequalities, not individuals. Or at least that is how I understand it.
It is also high time that people with ethics in media professions started balancing out rogue “human rights” exploitation campaigns of hot subjects or agendas that do more harm to human rights movements than good.