Recently, the Thomas Reuters Foundation ranked India as the most unsafe country for women. People have spoken against it, including some dedicated Indians who reacted by creating their own Facebook poll. This public poll, trying to counteract the Reuters’ report, consists of two options – one stating that India is safe, the other stating it’s not. 87% voters of this poll state that India is safe; most of them are men. Even the Central Government has rejected the report, with Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development, stating that the Ministry wasn’t consulted for the report.
What goes amiss, amongst this chaos of ‘keeping up India’s dignity’, are hundreds of news reports of sexual offences against women. In fact, rape has become so common that the readers are getting desensitised to this horrendous crime. If one tries to explore the narrative of rape, it is always a passive voice. ‘A Woman was raped’, ‘A 10-month baby was raped’. In these headlines, the one who commits the crime disappears from the news, and from household discourses, hidden into the anonymity of concealed names. Yes, taking the name of the accused has its cons; but changing the voice of the headline seems to shift the spotlight away from the perpetrator. Contrast this with the headlines reporting murders, where culprits are named more freely.
Murphy (2017) voices that very little focus on rapists, quoting Hambe, who stated that without understanding the perpetrators, one cannot understand rape. Murphy’s report had some interesting findings on rapists. There are two kinds of rapists, for example. The ‘generalist’ rapists are general offenders, along with committing sexual crimes; the ones mostly imprisoned. And then there are the ‘specialists’ whose main crime is the sexual offence; mostly the ‘undetected rapists’ – a neighbour, the teacher (Malamuth, 1991). The same report illustrated that rapists often choose to call it ‘non-consensual sexual act’ instead of rape. Most start young – around mid-adolescence, and often blame the victim for being ‘too provocative’. Rapists are also found to believe in the ‘rape myth’ of no meaning yes.
Delving deeper into what makes rapists commit this heinous crime, Jalan (2015), citing an interview with a convicted rapist, found that the rapist himself was a victim of prolonged sexual exploitation when he was seven years old. He had felt powerless at that time. Later in life, most of his sexual offences were aimed at trying to overcome this sense of powerlessness. A lot of theories on sexual offenders overwhelmingly suggest that being a victim of child sexual abuse, itself, is a leading cause of becoming a perpetrator. But Plummer and Cossin (2016) clarify that it holds true only for male victims, elucidating the disproportionately higher numbers of male perpetrators and female victims. The struggle between power and powerlessness is a dominant theme.
There has also been an increasing depiction of men from lower socio-economic backgrounds as the prime perpetrators. As hypothesised, they see such crimes around them so often that they don’t consider it a crime at all. But they are also the ones who usually don’t ‘escape’. Conversely, men from affluent backgrounds also perpetuate the crime, but they often get away with it. In addition to being protected by the power of their family, there is a high possibility that they witness violence against the women of their household to such an extent that it gets normalized. Women in such families are confined to their homes with access to public places made possible only in the company of ‘their men’. But not all men raised in such families and socialised to be alright with violence against women go on to commit rape. However, if such people were to be sure that they ‘can’t be convicted’; there is no deterrence; it possibly gives them the free pass to rape.
While looking for the causes, it is also faulty to homogenise the rapists into one category. McKibbin, Shackelford, Goetz, and Starratt (2008), in their evolutionary analysis of rapists, classified them into five types. In their article, McKibbin and colleagues clarify that it doesn’t call rape a natural tendency, but instead looks at the causes from another lens. The very fact that unlike some species where rape is common (e.g. orangutans), there is no specific physical modification in human beings that act as an adaptation to be able to rape, is a good enough to claim rape as psychological.
Out of the types of rapists, first is the ‘disadvantaged men’. These are the men who are often rejected by women. They feel that there is no other way they can ‘get a woman’ to copulate with him. Second, the ‘specialised rapists’ , who are sexually aroused by violent sexual stimuli; the sadists. Third are the men who are ‘opportunistic rapists’. They play on the vulnerability of women; especially the victims are predominantly seen as someone who won’t report against the violator. The fourth kind is the ‘high-effort-mating rapists’, who are dominant, aggressive with high self-esteem; psychopaths who rape for the ‘fun’ of it. Last is the ‘partner rapists’ who want to win the ‘sperm competition’. They suspect their partners of indulging in sex with another man, but want their sperm to be the ‘winner’. A very high number of rapes are committed by the survivor’s partners.
There is still a great deal of research that is still required to explain the minds of the rapist. What stands out amongst all these is the sense of entitlement in men. They think that they deserve the women. This is superimposed with the view of women as an ‘object’ they can possess or play around with; for them, women do not have an agency. These thoughts are not uncommon, as they are born out of patriarchal socialisation. This is also the reason why merely a death penalty for rapists cannot act as a deterrent if men are continued to be raised with this sense of entitlement. They will continue with this abhorrent behaviour, for they know that they can escape it.
Barbaree, H. E., Marshall, W. L., & Lanthier, R. D. (1979). Deviant sexual arousal in rapists. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 17(3), 215-222.
Goleman, D. (1991, December 10). New Studies Map the Mind of the Rapist. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/10/science/new-studies-map-the-mind-of-the-rapist.html
Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence--from domestic abuse to political terror. Hachette UK.
Is India really the most dangerous country for women? (2018, June 28). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-42436817
Jalan, I. (2015, July 23). Into The Mind Of A Rapist: Man Opens Up About Why He Started Raping Women. ScoopWhoop. Retrieved from https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/rapist-psychology/#.s9svp4rhf
McKibbin, W. F., Shackelford, T. K., Goetz, A. T., & Starratt, V. G. (2008). Why do men rape? An evolutionary psychological perspective. Review of General Psychology, 12(1), 86-97.
Murphy, H. (2017, October 30). What Experts Know About Men Who Rape. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/30/health/men-rape-sexual-assault.html
Plummer, M., & Cossins, A. (2016). The cycle of abuse: When victims become offenders. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19(3), 286-304. doi: 10.1177/1524838016659487
Shpancer, N. (2016, February 1). Rape is Not (Only) About Power; It’s (Also) About Sex [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/insight-therapy/201602/rape-is-not-only-about-power-it-s-also-about-sex
Image credit: The New York Times
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