Media Spotlight

A psychological twist on the news.

The Indian Rape Experiment

Would you ignore a cry for help? Or would you be willing to get involved?

Imagine yourself walking down a street in New Delhi and suddenly hearing a woman screaming from inside a white van with blacked-out windows. Do you stop and try to help or just ignore it?  

In a shocking new video posted on Youtube, numerous men simply walked past the van or even stopped to listen before moving on. Only a small minority of the men in the video are actually seen trying to help. One older man actually struck the van with his walking stick while another man attempted to enter the van to help the woman inside.

Except that there was no woman in the van, just a tape recorder. The cries for help had been recorded as part of a social experiment conducted by Indian activist group YesNoMaybe to call attention to the rape culture pervading much of India's society. Though numerous high-profile rapes have been reported in the media, including the horrendous gang-rape and hanging of two young girls recently, the video highlights the sense of apathy that still surrounds sexual violence towards women.  

The video received more than 150,000 views within the first 24 hours of being posted and has since gone to reach more than 2 million views. While most comments reflect outrage at the apparent apathy shown in the video, some critics have condemned YesNoMaybe for the distress they caused to men who tried to help. Following news coverage of the video in Time Magazine and the Telegraph, many commenters have condemned the producers of the video for suggesting that India is the "rape capital of the world."

In the comments for the YouTube video page, representatives for YesNoMaybe insist that they provided the men who intervened with full information on their experiment. They also report that all of the men expressed approval for their experiment and, when asked whether they would intervene again if they heard a cry for help, responded that they would.  

Despite the criticisms, YesNoMaybe states that videos such as this one demonstrates that much more needs to be done to fight the problem of rape in India's cities. "We hear about rape every day in India, which leads to widespread protest. Thousands of people attend candlelight marches. But only a handful of people act when it really matters. So we set out to find how many people would actually help if someone's in trouble."

According to women's rights activist Ranjana Kumari in an interview with the Telegraph, there is continuing apathy over what happens to women although attitudes are slowly changing. Many people are reluctant to intervene due to fear of being drawn into a lengthy police investigation or even being charged themselves. "There is also still this rationale that the woman must have done something to deserve the attack," Kumari said. "There must be some justification for what is happening to her."

Social scientists also suggest that the influx of millions of young men from impoverished areas looking for work has led to New Delhi becoming a "city of strangers" with little community spirit to reduce attacks on women. 

For more information

Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto, Canada.

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