Rape, Sexual Violence and the Law


>RAPE, SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND THE LAW

 By Deepa Ranganathan ( deeps_jsr@yahoo.co.in )

“The Union Home Ministry has recently proposed to work on readying a draft Bill on the Laws relating to rape and sexual assault. It is heartening to note that the Ministry is considering to re work on the definition of the word ‘rape’ so as to include many other forms of sexual assault and violence in its ambit. This has finally come after a realization that the word ‘rape’ has often been subjected to multiple definitions and interpretations which have, sadly, in the process, managed to vindicate many assaulter(s) solely on the grounds that the act did not fall under the category of “rape”. The old archaic definition, as defined in Section 375 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), defines rape as “non-consensual sexual intercourse”. However, the definition clearly does not have any provision for other forms of penetrative acts that are equally brutal and violent, if not more, as rape. Firstly, there are various kinds of sexual assaults, abuse and/or molestation that a person may be subjected to. Most of us are not even aware as to what constitutes a case of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or rape. And, secondly, if “penetration” is the key word to classify an act as rape, then the definition falls short of including various other ways by which an individual may be assaulted—physically, emotionally or psychologically. The IPC needs to look at rape beyond just its penetrative value. All forms of non-consensual sexual assaults, abuse and violation are meant to be equally condemnable under the Law.

Last year, a survey was conducted in our college that surveyed young students in and around the campus who were asked some basic questions related to sexual harassment and ways to deal with it. The results were shockingly revealing. While more than 60% of those surveyed admitted that they never reported such cases, as high as 52% did not even know what constitutes a case of sexual harassment. One primary thing that was realized was that, a majority of the people surveyed conveniently assume that only those cases that involve physical touch are to be categorized as a case of sexual harassment. While molestation, abuse and assault do fall under this category, even exhibitionism is a form of sexual harassment. But the victim generally does not report it as it does not involve any physical touch. However, the harassment that a victim may face in such a scenario is clearly sexual in nature too. Thus, the challenge is not only to educate individuals on dealing with sexual harassment but also be educated on its widely inclusive definition. Likewise, rape’s definition too, needs to be reformulated and reworked upon, so that it includes all forms of assault, abuse and molestation.

Rape Laws in India are tricky, to use a safe term. As a whole, one could safely say that the process of Law is very convoluted and, in most cases, ends up being biased against the victim. If the victim is a minor, the onus is on the accused to prove his innocence. But if the victim is a major, it is up to her to prove her charge. Therefore, the defense finds it worthwhile to prove that the victim is a major. Also, in all rape cases, unless the woman is examined medically within 24 hours, it becomes increasingly difficult, forensically, to prove that rape has occurred. A problematic situation that arises with respect to the above topic of discussion is the word “eve teasing”. The word ‘teasing’ is open to multiple interpretations, many of which could easily fall under the category of something inviting. Teasing may not necessarily imply a case to be reported and that itself is alarming. For instance, the 2002 Godhra massacre that occurred in Gujarat have had a history of some of the most horrific cases. Back in 2002, there was no category as “sexual violence” under the IPC and a case as brutal and violent as the cutting of a woman’s breasts was categorized as “eve teasing”.

It should be useful, here, to discuss another form of rape that is increasingly becoming a brutal and inescapable reality in our society—marital rape. To associate the word ‘rape’ with anything marital is often seen as traditionally troublesome precisely because one finds it difficult to accept that a spouse may forcibly extract sexual labour from the other. When the primary definition of rape involves the word “non-consensual”, one has to realize that even a lawfully married individual may be forced for consent; the relationship between the rapist and the victim does not matter in such a context. Currently, marital rape is illegal in 18 American States, 3 Australian States, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia. {Source: Internet}

To once again revert back to the Union Home Ministry’s proposal of amendments in the Laws relating to sexual violence and rape, the legislation has also proposed for making the definition of rape gender neutral. This was something long due. Nevertheless, it is most welcome. It almost comes as a relief that the Law has finally woken up to the fact that gender is not a determining factor in cases of rape. It is not something that only women are subjected to, though one cannot deny that women have had to face it more often than men. But, that does not rule out its existence in the case of men. Several cases of young boys being assaulted and sexually abused are increasingly hogging the limelight and being reported. The Hindu in its editorial (Rape Law and Reform, March 24, 2010) rightly asserted: “It is a mistake to regard gender-neutrality as a dilution of the rape law.” The extreme trauma that accompanies psychological and physical assault on an individual has no connection whatsoever with the victim’s gender.

Thus, one expects the Union Home Ministry to realize that any new Law on sexual harassment and rape will have to broaden its ambit to cover the entire range of offenses, both for men and women. Otherwise, more and more cases of harassment—physical and psychological, will continue to escape the Law’s dragnet. And that would only be another blot in our already notorious Indian Judiciary.”
________*________

Honest feedback/criticism expected.
Thanks! :-))

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6 thoughts on “Rape, Sexual Violence and the Law

  1. >well Deepa you elaborated the current burning issue very neatly no doubt in it. Thank you very much coz after reading this article now i am feeling how much our ladies/innocent sisters are safe in this society (Before & after marriage)?You explained the legal meaning of the word "RAPE" but in my views as a girl/lady you will be the accurate judge to decide whether the opposite sex person is crossing his limits (Behaviour, attitude, way of looking, spoken words, showing pros photos,,,,,,,)So when our ladies/sisters come infront of everyone say the truth then we can catch the victim………will our ladies will dare? (will their husbands or families will dare)This is what a big loophole in our society and culprits are making encashment of it.I think last year in GOA there was a same issue wherein the foreign tourists has been raped……….. assembly decision was dress code for a woman in a beaches.(As a matter of the above any wrong dress code will erect the male)Again in making this law there will be a loophole wherein ladies may exploit innocent gents……….HIGHLY DEBATABLE TOPIC…..NICE ONE

  2. >@Mr. NagarajThank you Sir for you comments. I value them. However, I have a few observations and clarifications to make.Firstly, my essay insisted that rape, whatever may be its definition and however debatable it may be, is a gender neutral phenomenon, which means that the question is not only about innocent ladies but also innocent gentlemen. Rape, in any form, is equally punishable regardless of the sex of the victim.Having said that, I would like to refer to one of the comments that you have made. You say: "Any wrong dress code will erect the male."I would term such a response as highly chauvinist and sexist in nature. When a guy dresses up in his shorts, do women rape/assault him? So, why is a woman expected to be dressed 'decently' in order to avoid an assault? To say that the woman was dressed provocatively is to defend the rapist and his/her intentions. It is the gendered nature of our society that has much more expectations from women than from men.Who decides the dress code? Society. And society cannot be trusted as it is gendered.Regards,Deepa.

  3. >Deepa,Nod to most of your views. About the dress code, irrespective of the gender, one gets sexually (naturally) aroused in such instances. If not, s/he is not normal. But, what counts at the end of the day is the control one has on him/herself in handling the situation :o)Further, I totally agree when you say the society is gendered. A similar issue is on my Blog – http://pacchiee.blogspot.com/2010/07/unsaid.html

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