This is a sample of what India is reading about, almost daily now: An eight-year-old child was raped by her neighbour, in Baranbaki (UP). A five year old in Delhi was raped, tortured, mutilated, and left to die with a slit throat. A four year old was raped and strangled in Seoni (MP), leaving her with critical brain injuries. As the number of reported cases continues to rise, the victims seem to get younger. Many are minors, some barely out of their diapers. In some incomprehensible cases, they are mere infants.
As people struggle to come to terms with such inhuman depravity, the question that arises is, “why do people commit such acts that defy logic, and traverse moral codes across cultures? Before we get to that point, let us begin with the basics, and understand the concept of rape.
What is rape?
Rape is an act of violence. It is a forced sexual act that is imposed on a person without consent. This act could be done though physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or with people who are incapacitated, or below the age of legal consent.
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines rape as intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman, without her permission,. It is considered a criminal offence. Section 375 (IPC) specifies that a man having sexual intercourse with a woman amounts to rape if it is:
- Against her will.
- Without her permission, or if the permission has been obtained under duress.
- With her permission, but she is misled into believing that she is legally wedded to him.
- Consensual but she is not in proper state of mind to judge the consequences of such an act.
- Consensual but she is below the age of sixteen years
Why do men rape?
One of the theories doing the rounds is that gender imbalance and consequent lack of enough women is causing frustration, and driving men to rape. However, contrary to popular belief, rape is not merely about sex. This is evident even when we do a cursory evaluation of some recent cases. Many of the accused are married men, for whom paid sex is an available alternative. Moreover, the brutality and perversion involved indicate that there is clearly something else that is going on.
Rapes may be committed due to many reasons, but the consensus is that the act is often about achieving gratification thorough control and violence. Many experts believe that a part of this violent behaviour is derived from social conditioning, where men learn early on that aggression is an easy way to prove a point and/or get what they want. 
The act is often rooted in frustration, anger or pure rage. Some men simply want a person to vent their anger out on. Women and children happen to be easy targets. The process of causing defilement, humiliation, excessive pain & hurt to the other, becomes an ultimate expression of anger. Sometimes rape is used as a means for revenge and retaliation.
Rape is also about power. Often, when there is an underlying sense of inadequacy, some men seek a sense of power, control or authority through sexual dominance. These men often wield control over their victims through means such as verbal threats and intimidation with weapons. The intent is to subjugate rather than cause undue physical pain. At times, the need for control may be derived from warped idea of masculinity. Then rape becomes an ultimate validation of a person’s “mardangi” (manhood).
Finally, rape can be about sadism. There are some men who derive sexual pleasure out of inflicting pain. The intentional torment, suffering and distress are gratifying and the offender finds the struggles of the victim erotic. In order to prolong the torture (& their own consequent pleasure), these men often indulge in bizarre behaviours such as inserting foreign objects and systematically injuring sensitive body parts.
Many of the horrific cases, which are being highlighted today, seem to involve a large element of sadism.
Why do men rape children?
So far we have dealt with rape in general. But the bigger question tormenting people is “what makes a person crazy enough to target near infants?” There are essentially two categories of people who prey on minors. The “fixated” group sexually desire children. Their interests are likely to have begun during adolescence. Due to the preoccupation with minors, they are unlikely to have healthy sexual contacts with age–appropriate partners. They tend to target male children, who are usually not related to them.
The “regressed” group are usually not interested sexually in children. However, they may turn to sexual contact with children as a substitute for adult alternatives, especially during times of stress. This group of people is likely to prey on young girls who are family members or people known to them because they are easily accessible in times of stress.
In the cases that are currently being reported, it appears that many of the child rapists may belong to the second category.
What do rapists look like?
If one were to go by the profile of rapists who have been apprehended recently, it would be tempting to conclude that rapists are economically disadvantaged, semi-skilled, semi-urban males. However, facts indicate that rapists cut across regional, economic, social and cultural lines. They could be doctors, lawyers, priests, labourers, electricians or family men. In other words, “he” could be someone you know! While it may be easier to believe that “rapists are not like us”, there is unfortunately damning evidence to prove that many rapes are committed by relatives and acquaintances. 
It is difficult to profile rapists in general but research has shown that there are certain traits that broad categories of rapists seem to share in common. They tend to have social skill deficits, problems with intimacy and trouble with regulating anger. Their rage and frustration is often compounded by lack of adequate communication skills. They are often insecure about their masculinity, hypersensitive to any kind of rejection, and have distorted views about women and sex. Many also have a history of deviant sexual interests since adolescence, such as indecent exposure, voyeurism etc. Experts also believe that rapists have a tendency to distort reality, which allows them to justify their actions and/or attach sexual meaning to innocent situations.
The most specific commonality among sex offenders is empathy deficits. They are unable to put themselves in their victim’s shoes and understand what the person is going through. However, they may be able to empathize with other people.
Perhaps the ability to detach from their victim’s ordeal enables them to carry out the dehumanizing acts, which seem abhorrent and inexplicable to other individuals.
Why are rape cases escalating?
Given the spate of reported cases, it would seem that the number of rapes have dramatically increased. While this may be true, it is also true that the mainstream and social media are taking the issue more seriously, resulting in better reporting and consequent pressure to take action. There is now more sensitization about the issue.
Moreover, we live in a time when the country is going through rapid social transition. While a sociologist will be better qualified to discuss the multi-layered impact of this, a few things stand out in general. Today, traditional family and community structures are breaking down and this is eroding the old, informal system of checks and balances. These have not yet been replaced by a formal, robust legal system. Hence, we have a situation where a person believes “I won’t be caught”, or “ the police will do a shoddy job of investigating”, or “I can bribe my way out, or “the punishment is not a big deal”. Unless these core beliefs change, there is no deterrence. Thus the rapist will continue to rape with impunity because he can!
Note: Young boys and at times even men get sodomized. While this act is not categorized under rape in the IPC, the trauma and sense of violation is often equally horrific. However, the issue merits an article in itself, and has hence been left out for now.