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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).[1] A five year old in Delhi was raped, tortured, mutilated, and left to die with a slit throat.[2] A four year old was raped and strangled in Seoni (MP),[3] 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,[4]. 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. [5]

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.[6]

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. [7]

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.

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13 thoughts on “Why do men rape?

  1. Very well written Post, Its so predominant to see how often we let go people around us who abuse normally with any female counterpart for that matter. The start I feel would be from within to start saying NO and making the one who abuses or tries to even pass an comment to shame him & make him feel guilty about it.

    We all need to start putting in efforts rather than just to talk, As saying goes Charity starts from home. Lets pledge to start it

    • Eliminating rape completely is a pipe dream as there will always be people with deviant behaviours. However,the numbers can be brought down with effective measures to deter people, and lessen the ordeal of victims.Some basic measures can include(i)severe penalties for rapists that will make people think twice before acting on their impulses (ii)better policing (iii)fast track courts to ensure speedy justice (iv) sensizitaion of law enforcement people & frontline medical staff (v)uniform procedures for dealing with rape(vi) naming & shaming the rapist (vii) creating awareness so that people stop blaming victims (vii)severe penalties for delinquent cops

  2. A well analysed article enumerating the various possible reasons for the horrible thing to happen in the life of innocets.As u had mentioned in your article on the rape-law,just passing it is not going to help.The strict implementation only can be a deterrent to begin with.We also need to sensitise the future generations.Its upto every parent to bring up sane balanced kid.The problem also lies with the govt which doesnt curb advertisements that depict women as cheap commodities.You might disagree with me but whats the connection between an IPL cricket and Cheergirls?Sends subtle messages to the children.Lots to be done and hope we do see a change for good.Respect for girl-child is just the beginning!

    • I agree on your points about objectification & teaching respect for women from the early years. This article essentially dealt with the psychological aspect of the problem, but there is a seperate issue of ‘the rape culture’, which is a matter of global debate since it applies to countries across the world.

  3. Very nice read, just came across your blog, hence reading thru. Most rapes happen because of the mental conditioning a particular individual has experienced in his early years. In rural India and to some extent urban India, women are still treated as second rate citizens in house holds. These men grow up seeing the women of the house be it the mother or sister i’ll treated and not give the same importance or respect compared to the male child. Hence they might grow up with the thought that the opposite sex is dispensable. Its our social structure that’s to blame. Until we try to bring about a change in the social structure this menace is here to stay. I really do not see that changing, recently a coed school in Bangalore decided that after 6th standard they are going to have separate sections for girls and boys. When i say sections i mean different classes. This is extremely regressive, how will the kids learn about opposite sex, how will they know their boundaries and limitations, how will they learn to respect each other as a fellow human with equal rights if they do not mingle.

    I completely disagree with what Radhu Raju said, its not governments responsibility to ban media, governments responsibility is to provide free and fair media. Its the peoples responsibility to choose that they see and what they do not see. If their are adverts for fairness cream for all possible regions of the body and something called “female renewal gel” its because there exists a market for it. Lets see all shun these products, there will not a be an advert. Coming to IPL, whats wrong with cheerleaders, they too are professionals like our cricketers. If cricketers can entertain people by playing in front of them, why can’t the cheerleaders perform in front of the crowds, that in no way deeming to a women.
    They were not forced to perform against their will its their profession and its a respectable profession. Parents should make children understand this.

  4. As per my name meaning FREEDOM, Everyone deserve freedom, and not to fear no one accept Almighty God, to me all rapists should have only one punishment, SAZAA E MAUT, To be hang till death. They r absolutely not human being but beasts. HATE’EM.

  5. “Traditional family and community structures … have not yet been replaced by a formal, robust legal system.” — We need to be prepared for an India where community structures have vanished but there is no legal system, leave alone a robust one. India simply has no time and energy left to fix its lawlessness. In that India, nothing short of women roaming armed and in feral packs will suffice. If that makes you feel bad, let me add the prediction that men will do the same to protect themselves against men, too.

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