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The Rape Tax

This article has been written by Padmini Baruah (Batch of 2016). This article was first published as part of Quirk’s #MeToo Special Edition. The full edition can be accessed here.

It exists, whether you know it or not. If you, like me, have survived sexual violence, you know it all too well.

The ‘rape tax’ is my own little coined term about the everyday toll assault survivors pay to get through life. It manifests itself when least expected, and can take several variations, broken down below:

  1. Emotional: This is a no-brainer. It is a voice at the back of your head whispering to you that you are somehow damaged goods, that you will never heal again, that you are broken. It’s a tax in addition to the net emotional tolls we pay as people – over and above our average insecurities, existential dread, fear of getting run over by traffic, phobias of spiders, and whatever else is already blocking your productivity. This is an extra payment that assault survivors submit, and extra work we do to get through life.

  2. Social: Loosely – this is the tax of not being able to holistically engage with the world around you because of (1) above. This manifests differently for different people. There are certain social gatherings that I simply cannot attend because the triggers are too high. There is a fall out net loss of people who you thought were your friends, when they start to condone rapists, assaulters, or disbelieve your side of the story. There are opportunities you will not take because you will be the only woman in the room on a late midnight work marathon, and who knows if the man who is your colleague will disrespect your consent? It is the constant turning around, looking over your shoulder, calculating whether a situation will be ‘rape free’ or not.

  3. Economic: I personally realized the additional economic rape tax I have paid only recently. I cannot claim that this is everyone’s experience so I will only talk about myself. Assault has changed my spending patterns over the years, and has affected my decisions about careers and opportunities.

  4. It has caused me to spend around Rs. 60,000 in therapy, which is a direct cost. I’m going to throw in the cost of anti-depressants, doctor visits etc. and round it up to a lakh over two years.

  5. I have not kept track of how much alcohol has been consumed over the last five years due to this specific trigger, but to do a consultant-style guesstimate, taking an average of 2 drinks a night (to balance out weekdays when I didn’t drink versus weekends when binging was common), at an average of ~ Rs. 200 per drink, for 3 years *(leaving out the last two years to account for days when I have drunk not because of a stress trigger) – I have a whopping Rs. 4,38,000 spent on substance dependence that would not have happened if the date rape had not happened.

  6. Panic attacks and recurrent anxiety pulled me out of the job market at a time when my per-diem was around Rs. 5000/day. I stayed unemployed for two months trying to put my life back together, yet again. That amounts to Rs. 3,00,000 – gone, done, dusted.

Let’s summarise this in the following table:

Cost

Amount (in rupees)Counselling, medication etc.1,00,000 [$1380]Substances4,38,000 [$6040]Productive days lost3,00,000 [$4137]Total8,38,000 [$11557]

The World Bank tells me that the annual per capita income in India, in terms of purchasing power parity, is $7060. This is 64% higher than the annual per capital income of India. The economic rape tax is real, and has actually been paid.

And let’s face it – I am speaking from a place of privilege. I am an educated woman who could get therapy, because I had a well-paying job, supportive friends and the ability to articulate my trauma. I am not even sure how I would put numbers down for the countless women whose lives have been hit by assault and who do not occupy privileged spaces. I acknowledge this privilege as a limitation to my worldview, and would welcome more insight.

It’s a rainy, cold day in Boston as I write this, and I’m dealing with the aftermath of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.  Dr. Ford, who delivered a brave and powerful testimonial about the assault, has now gone into hiding, following threats on her life. He’s likely to become the next Supreme Court justice. Somewhere over the past few years, I heard that my rapist wrote a book, and went to Georgetown. His life seems to be fine.

Me?

I’m alright. Paying my tax and plodding along.

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