Focus Taiwan reported yesterday that a special operation that took place from March to May resulted in the apprehension of 31 fugitive rapists.
While this ought to be good news - 31 is a lot of rapists - it raises more questions than it answers.
First of all, would a "special mission" have been necessary if the Taipei City police had paid more attention and allocated more resources to catching rapists generally? I don't think anyone knows how many people in a city the size of Taipei would, on average, be rapists, but...this just seems like a lot, no?
Assuming we should not be nervous that there even were 31 rapists to apprehend - again, I have no idea how many any given Taipei-sized city would typically have on the files - I have to wonder how they managed to catch so many in 3 months. Could it possibly be because they had some idea who these people were, and therefore once it was made a "special mission" with "extra resources", finally bothered to go out and nab them?
Could they not have apprehended any of these fugitives sooner? Because really, I cannot emphasize this enough: 31 rapists is a lot of rapists.
I know I'm supposed to be applauding the police, but I can't shake the feeling that they were sitting on their hands before, not taking rape cases seriously when it was even remotely challenging - or perhaps not even challenging - to find an accused rapist and take him (or her - but usually him) into custody.
Let's keep in mind that the rape law in Taiwan was only changed in 1999, which is a very long time to wait for a change in such a law. Until then, the old law was written to define rape as an offense against women, in which the offender used force so that she "could not resist", and was a "crime against public decency" (it is now a "crime against sexual autonomy"). Under the old law, men were not included, and not all types of coercion or non-consensual pressure or activity were covered. The 1999 change was an improvement, but I have to wonder if its being less than 20 years old has anything to do with current attitudes towards rape: not that I think the police don't care, but that they don't care enough to devote resources to finding offenders, or perhaps still think of rape as an issue of "chastity", or something that is perhaps, to them, not as much of a crime if the use of force was not as violent as they might expect.
I know that's a pretty strong accusation to make, and to be fair, every police officer is an individual, and I am sure many of them take rape reports seriously. However, if there is no truth to it, why is it that it took until May of this year to apprehend so many rapists, and how were they apprehended so quickly?
Finally, I fear that the general attitude of law enforcement is laid bare in the final paragraph of the Focus Taiwan article, and it is deeply problematic.
Although the mission has ended, police efforts to crack down on sexual assaults will continue, Taipei City Police Department Commissioner Chen Chia-chang (陳嘉昌) said. He also urged women to take precautions for their own safety, such as avoiding walking alone in remote areas and always locking their car doors after getting in.
Ahem - excuse me?
First, this ought to cause any woman in Taipei to question the old belief that the city is completely safe for women.
Secondly, while I understand the impulse to warn women to be careful, I can assure you that more or less every woman is already well aware that the world is a more dangerous place for her than for men. By admonishing women with something we already know, Chen is not only being condescending, but drawing very close to victim-blaming.
Instead of telling women how to be safe, Commissioner Chen, how about working to make Taipei safe for women? How about continuing to spend the resources necessary to apprehend rapists in a timely manner rather than waiting for a "special mission" so that women can safely walk alone in remote areas and don't have to fear being chased into their cars? You know - so that we can walk around safely and not feel nervous whenever we get into said car?
A woman being as safe as a man on the streets of most Western cities is often considered a distant dream, but it is possible in Taipei, which is generally regarded as safer. I walk around in Taipei, alone, at all times of night. Just this past Saturday I walked from my sister's apartment to my own - Brendan had gone home early - at 2:30am and did not feel unsafe.
Taipei could be a city where women are safe in public as men are, but it won't happen if it takes a special mission to capture all of those rapists - really, let's just consider one final time how many rapists that is - and it certainly won't happen if the police themselves, rather than allocating resources to keeping women safe, admonish women that Taipei is not safe.