The story of the recent assault of a teenager is proving to be a strange and grievous tale. She went to a hotel with her boyfriend, who left her alone at a party that was certainly not of the birthday variety. There she was trapped (they wouldn’t let her leave), and violently assaulted. Whether she was raped or not is not the point. Neither is whether her interaction with her boyfriend was of the consenting kind or not. What matters is what she says happened to her, and how seriously we take that allegation because she isn’t the first, and won’t be the last.

Sex and sexuality has always been and fraught and dangerous territory for us. Largely because we are governed by the idea that morality is equal to sexual modesty, the manifestation of which starts with our clothes and carries on to really anything- sitting next to a boy/girl in class, an inadvertent meeting of eyes, a prank call, actual dating. Our hysteria with policing our bodies and their natural impulses is so extreme now that far from guarding one’s chastity, now our every notion of intersex interactions has mutated into a freakish “hansi tou phansi” mentality. Just the other day I was at an intersection, laughing with a friend in the car. The man in the car alongside saw me laugh and thought it was meant for him, which he then interpreted as an invitation to follow the car to the next red light, where he proceeded to leer at me. I did the only thing that works with this kind of behaviour: roll my window down and ask him what he was looking at. It frightened the bejeezus out of him. In an environment where you can’t even laugh without some moron taking it the wrong way, making a rape allegation is a huge, soberingly serious issue and cannot be brushed aside so easily.

It is simplistic and irresponsible to perpetually blame the victim, which is the norm. This isn’t just one of those “but in the civilised West they don’t”; this is the sad norm across societies all over the globe. The woman must have done something to provoke the attack- why was she in a shady neighbourhood by herself, why was she wearing those clothes, why did she go out in the first place and in this case, why did she have a boyfriend at all, let alone go to a hotel with him. Didn’t she know something like that would only have one outcome- precisely what happened? The underlying judgement here is that she deserved it. That a seventeen year old had it coming for trusting a man she liked, maybe even loved, and for going anywhere with him. That girls and women who dare to be sexually or emotionally ‘forward’ are therefore cast from the pale of decency, and in the wilderness outside of it, are fair game for anyone.

These social mores would perhaps make some sense if they were adhered to. The internet, cell phones and the widespread and inexpensive access to both have resulted in a boom in technological romance. From a barely literate serving boy to shopgirls, teenagers at school and weird old men; everyone’s got the ability now to ‘make friendship’ with just about anyone. It’s as simple as a secondhand phone and one hundred rupees worth of all-night-free credit and voilà! Out the window fly all those finger wagging tales about never talking to the opposite sex, let alone meeting them in a shopping mall or restaurant, accepting gifts and generally being a couple. There is a very real reason why Valentine’s Day is a huge phenomenon now; you can be assured that all the thousand rupee roses and teddy bears holding hearts are not being purchased by married people to give to their spouses.

So where do we get off judging anyone, let alone condemning them if a matter of the heart goes wrong? The fact of the matter is that a young person (for terrible and traumatic things happen to boys too) went through a horrific experience where her personal safety was comprised as well as her emotional and sexual integrity. Given how secretive one has to be about any of it in the first place, for a girl to make this kind of accusation must mean that she was deeply troubled and afraid. Most rape and assault goes unreported because people, quite rightly, are afraid of the consequences, starting with the reaction of one’s parents. Add to the mix one’s femaleness- for men are not judged half as harshly for being sexual beings- and one is already on the back foot. The victim has already tried to kill herself. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the modus operandi of a seasoned liar- it represents despair. It’s high time we pulled our heads out of the judgmental, all-talk-and-no-heart sand and acknowledged that young people are getting together, whether we like it or not, so that we can take steps to protect them. Nobody has ever been able to stop or eradicate evil from any society, because it’s impossible. So our duty to our children and to other people’s children lies in being able to create safety for them in the midst of malice and evil intent so that someday nobody’s teenager, girl or boy, will experience what this young girl did.