Medieval treatment: A modern society protects women from rape

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Rape is a horrific crime. But the added scourge faced by its victims in other cultures highlights the continued vulnerability of women.

In West Bengal, India, a young woman who couldn’t pay the fine levied against her for accepting the marriage proposal of a man from another village was gang-raped as punishment. The assault was ordered by the village chief, who participated in it with at least a dozen villagers.

Although allowed to live, the woman was warned not to report the gang rape to police or else she would be killed. She ignored the threat, told the authorities, and the village chief and his co-rapists were arrested. If found guilty, they could serve up to 20 years in prison thanks to India’s tougher anti-rape laws.

After several high-profile cases in India, millions of men and women protested to galvanize public opinion on rape. Special courts were created to prosecute the crimes and now everyone from police to perpetrators know the assaults will be taken seriously by the law.

A case in Morocco was different. Two years ago a 16-year-old girl who was raped and forced to marry her assailant committed suicide. Under the law at the time, if a man convicted of rape married his underage victim he could avoid punishment.

Last Wednesday the Moroccan Parliament removed the marriage escape clause and left in place a prison term of one to five years. That’s an improvement, but not enough — tougher penalties for rape are needed.

One test of a modern society is how its statutes and mores treat women. In the case of Morocco and India, more reform and less medieval thinking are still needed.

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