By Sonakshi Samtani:
The discussion around feminism and women’s safety has reached its peak in the online as well as mainstream sphere, but the real discourse about gender being a spectrum rather than an end, as highlighted by Emma Watson, is still not considered. An oft overlooked aspect of the same is the fact that men can be raped as well and there are multiple survivors walking among us who have nowhere to go with their plea since the society at large rejects the idea of men being raped. The same notion, as reflected in the Indian laws, is just another facet of the issue.
The Indian legislation refuses to acknowledge the fact that men can be victims of sexual violence. The Indian Penal Code is a glaring instance of this. The IPC Sections 354 A, 354 B, 354 C and 354 D, dealing with sexual harassment, disrobing, stalking and voyeurism, explicitly refer to men as the perpetrators of these crimes and women as victims. Similarly, Section 375 of the IPC, which deals with the definitions of rape and legal provisions against it, has no mention of rapes against men, it starts with “A man is said to commit “rape”..” and goes on to define what rape would constitute in such a case, rape of a woman. It fails to provide protection to men against these.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, by its very name excludes men from the ambit of sexual harassment. The sheer ignorance towards this issue has more repercussions than one can expect it to have.
The last concrete step towards making rape a gender neutral crime was by the Justice Verma Committee in 2013. “However, even The Verma Committee proposed that the perpetrator in rape be recognised in law as ‘male’”, writes Albeena Shakeel in EPW, “and the victim be “persons” (including females, males, transgenders). This was an acceptable proposal in law. However, the government’s ‘Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013’ is distinguished by its thrust on viewing women as potential rapists.”
While the fact that men can be raped might amuse some, or seem very trivial to the masses, this indifference towards sexual violence against men is a glaring example of how serious this problem is. Sadly, lack of legal provisions and social acceptance of men being raped by men or women, or men being at the receiving end of any form of sexual violence, is a reinforcement of the orthodox and patriarchal gender stereotypes. These stereotypes also pervade the sexuality of both men and women, and the society’s starkly different attitudes towards both. While female sexuality is considered to be ‘prized’ and their virginity a matter of honour for the family, male sexuality is congruent to the stereotypical male aggression. Largely, men are expected to be sexually fearless, conditioned to be welcome to sexual advances.
“I believe that the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee should be accepted in their entirety. Even though rape is an instrument which affects women in far larger numbers, the fact that both men in conflict situations and custodial situations as well as transgenders are also affected cannot be ignored, if you are sensitive to the question of human suffering. Instances of sexual violence in Abu Gharib perpetrated against male soldiers, as well as sexual violence inflicted on men in situations of caste and communal conflict in the Indian context should alert us to this grim reality” says Arvind Narrain, a lawyer at the Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.
Popular culture does not refrain from portraying a less ‘manly’ or ‘masculine’ image of a male who refuses to accept female sexual advances. The concept of ‘consent’ from a man’s side is seldom considered, and is assumed to be a positive ‘given’. Men being forced into sexual activities is often portrayed as a positive experience for them, asserting their ‘masculinity’. Therefore, most men wouldn’t even be able to recognize an action as abusive or without consent.
A majority of the Indian society is averse to even the idea of homosexuality, let alone its acceptance in everyday life. Members of the LGBT community face ‘corrective rape’, often with the knowledge of their family or peers. The idea behind ‘corrective rape’ is that homosexuals are sexually disoriented, and therefore, a sexual encounter with a member of the opposite sex would correct it. This preposterous practice is very common, yet uncommon in social debates and discussions. Moreover, acts of harassment against the LGBTQI people, even by those in authority, go unnoticed and are trivialized.
Hence, the social stigma against the very concept of male rape and the unacceptance of men being sexually violated has led to little or no reporting of cases of sexual violence against men. In fact, at present, India has no concrete statistics for men as victims of sexual violence.
Men who have had forced sexual encounters can face severe psychological trauma (Post traumatic stress disorder), substance abuse, etc., and the trauma can be prolonged due to unavailability of any assistance. Most men do not even report cases of rape or discuss them with anyone, because of the stigma attached to it and due to the fear that it wouldn’t even be considered as rape. As part of the newly amended Juvenile Justice Act, age of consent has been increased to 18, therefore, even cases of consensual sex between two teenagers are now termed as statutory rape, with charges filed just against the boy. This is problematic on several accounts.
It stands on a premise that women cannot and do not have sexual desires, therefore, a sexual intercourse between two consenting teenagers would account for a statutory rape, committed by the boy. It also reflects a very orthodox outlook of the Indian lawmakers pertaining to sexuality. Moreover, it does not take into account false charges of rape that could be posed against men.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), says that “I stand by the Justice Verma Committee recommendations to make rape victims gender neutral. However, considering women as perpetrators of male rapes, according to the definition of rapes (including sexual assaults), in ‘The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013’ is incongruous to the power structure in the society. Rape is not just a physical crime against someone, it is a social crime. I am not saying that women by nature cannot perpetrate sexual violence, however, it occurs only in exceptional cases. We don’t come across overwhelming cases of sexual violence by women. It can be considered only in cases of custodial rapes or child rapes.”
The only legal redress available to the male survivors are the charges under the recently reinstated Section 377 of the IPC, which can also be classified as an anti-sodomy law. However, this is problematic as it makes no apparent distinction between consensual and non-consensual sex between two males, and is a homophobic law, without any actual consideration for sexual violence against men. Moreover, it incorporates only penile sexual intercourse, victims of non-penile abuse essentially have no provisions in the law to their rescue.
It is time we stop trivializing sexual abuse against men. We need to start reflecting on the stereotypes that have led to a benighted approach towards sexual violence against half the population of our country.