All women can become potential targets and neither your class nor education may be able to protect you. So we must deal with our fear as well as learn what to do if it does happen.
“It has been almost three years now, but there has not been even one day, when I have not been haunted by what happened. Sometimes when I am walking on the road and hear footsteps behind I start to sweat and have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I flinch at friendly touches; I can’t bear tight scarves that feel like hands round my throat….”
At the core of every woman’s fear of rape is the humiliation and hurt. It could be any of us when on a date or walking down a road. It can take different forms of sexual violence. Our first thought might be – will people listen to me or understand what I am going through? Should I tell a relative or friend, how will she react? What can and cannot be called rape? We need to understand the line between rape and consent. We should look at our common but incorrect beliefs.Why do men rape? Can I prevent it? What do I do if I am sexually assaulted? Should I go to the Police or the Court? What laws can help me?
Types of Sexual Assaults
The categorisation of rape is useful as it breaks several myths and misunderstanding around it. Is rape usually committed by the faceless stranger in a dark alley?
Categorisation gives us information on the nature of rape or how it came about, the type of rapists, the locations and the type of rape victims.
In an Indian family, friends and relatives are not only welcome but expected to stay over and interact with the entire family.
Daughters / nieces/ daughters-in-law and sisters / sisters-in-law face rape and sexual abuse. It generally begins with milder acts like petting, fondling, kissing, squeezing. It then goes on to forced sexual intercourse with threats, physical force, cajoling and emotional blackmail. Rape within the family is often a prolonged abuse, as it takes place over a number of years, under cover of secrecy and threat of disgrace to the entire family. Friends or even a servant may turn into a molester and rapist looking for a right time and opportunity.
Many women are confused and do not know whom to turn to since the abusers are otherwise respected and loved by other members of the family. Women are also hesitant to disclose or discuss the rape because they fear they will not be believed by their family or because they are threatened by the abuser or they may want to simply forget it happened to them. They also fear upsetting relationships in the family.
According to National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) figures, Delhi topped the chart of incest cases among cities reporting 26 of the total 60 cases in 2006 [The Times of India, Mumbai, 03-11-2008]
“It was an arranged marriage and I was jittery of what lay ahead. Instead of tender love, my husband raped me.” When rapists lurk in homes… Times of India, Mumbai 1-11-06]
Sexual intercourse is a regular feature in married life or for people in a relationship. So how can we talk of rape between partners?
Some believe that a woman cannot be raped by her husband or partner as it is part of their relationship. In the case of a husband, it is said that it’s his right and her duty to have sex with him. It is only recently, that the term ‘marital rape’ has emerged. If husbands who use force, threats or intimidation or in any form compels his wife, against her will to have sexual intercourse, it is defined as marital rape.
Marital rape can be a traumatic, ongoing experience that many women are forced to relive daily. The wife becomes a sexual slave, giving up control over her own body, with no right to refuse.
This also applies in the case of partners or dating couples. Date rape has recently been added as a new form when it was discovered that men going out on a date would not take a no for an answer and go ahead to force women into having sex with them.
Gang rapes are a particularly inhuman form of violence against women in which more than one man rapes a woman. Why do they do so and what type of women are the most likely victims?
One form of gang rape that is common in India is when a group of men randomly abduct a woman unknown to them. She is then repeatedly raped and tortured by the men over a period of hours or days before they release her. We read examples of this kind in the newspapers.
Another form is when a group of men rape a woman known to one or all of them for supposedly behaving or dressing in a non-traditional manner. This is meant to be a punishment to the woman for not conforming to the norms set by the immediate community. Bhanvari Devi, a Sathin with a govt program was raped for preventing child marriages.
Another type, also called mob rape, aims to use rape as a tool to humiliate the woman’s family or community. A group of right wing party men attacked Christians in Khadhamal, Orissa, which included the rape of a woman working in the Church. Hindu-Muslim riots are full of examples of violent rapes to dishonour the other. People of Manipur or Kashmir have accused army personnel to have raped women to show their power and intimidate locals.
Rape by the Powerful
Men in positions of power like politicians, employers, upper caste men, government officials can impact on women’s lives and therefore make use of their power to harass or rape women. We hear of such cases with regularity within the film industry. A director or a lead actor promises aspiring actresses roles if they had sexual relations with them. The contractor gives jobs to those women who oblige them. Professionals and priests exploit women.
In some cases, power is derived from caste, the uniform or trust in professionals or godmen. All of them are sexually exploitative and unethical.
Caste-based rape is founded upon power differences between the upper and lower castes. It can be a group rape of women belonging to a lower caste of a village as a result of enmity between the men. Or the rape of an individual lower-caste/poor woman because she is too vulnerable to resist. In both cases, caste plays a crucial role.
When men in positions of power take advantage of women who happen to be in their care or custody, it is called custodial rape. There are numerous cases of such rapes by police officers in police stations, superintendents of hostels, jails, remand homes, women’s or children’s homes or doctors or managers of govt. hospitals.
Another group, professionals or priests, have been known to take advantage of women clients or devotees. Doctors have often been accused of sexual advances or rapes by the women who they are treating. Psychologists who form relationships with patients can be punished by withdrawal of their licence to practice. Godmen or priests in ashrams and churches have lured women into having sex with them as part of their devotion to them. The case of the dalit student repeatedly gang raped by teachers in Patan, Gujerat in Sept 2007 was horrific. [Communalism Combat, April 2008]
There are hundreds of women who are sexually assaulted in India. 18 women endure sexual violence in one form or another, every hour.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in the first 9 months of 2008, there were 18,359 registered rape cases, translating to an average of 3 reported rapes per hour in the country. These figures do not take into account the number of rapes that go unreported. In India, only one in 69 cases of rape gets reported. [Deccan Herald, 25-11-08]
In 2008, the national average was 3 reported rapes per hour in the country. In States like Madhya Pradesh this figure is as high as 19 reported rapes per hour.
An increasing trend in cases of rape has been observed during 2003-2007.
A substantial increase of 15.0% in 2004 over 2003
A marginal increase of 0.7% in 2005 over 2004
An increase of 5.4% in 2006 over 2005
An increase of 7.2% in 2007 over 2006
Young women were by and large rape victims but the figures also show that age is not a consideration.
|9.5% were under||15 years of age|
|15.2% were teenagers||15-18 years|
|57.7% were||18-30 years|
|17.0% were||30-50 years|
|0.6% were over||50 years of age|
In 92 % of the cases, rapists are people usually known to the victims. This explodes the myth that rape is committed by strangers or perverted men.
Parents/close family members were involved in 2.1%
neighbours were involved in 36.0% cases
Your Questions, Their Beliefs
You may have asked yourself some of these questions. You may have heard some of these arguments, you may believe them yourself. Are they true? Possibly so, you argue with yourself, if so many people believe them. But on the other hand, maybe not, these are common sayings and beliefs which are not necessarily true.
- It could never happen to me
Fact: Any woman can be raped, regardless of age, race, class, religion, occupation, education, physical ability, or physical ‘attractiveness’. Studies show that men or boys search for a helpless or very young victim before the assault
- Rape is committed in dark alleys by strangers
Fact: Most rapes occur at home or in the neighbourhood. More often than not the offender is a relative, friend, neighbour or acquaintance.
“Everywhere in this country, over 90 per cent of victims are raped by person known to them.” [DNA, 2-12-08]
- Wearing provocative clothes invites rape
Fact: rapes are usually planned so it has little to do with clothes or how a woman behaves. There have been rapes on small girls, old women and burqa clad women.
- She asked for it. Why did she have to be out so late at night?
Read any newspaper and you will see that rapes happen in the middle of the afternoon too. The time is selected by the rapist so that the woman is alone or without help.
- Usually it’s the fault of the woman
Fact: We do not ascribe ‘fault’ or blame anyone else for other crimes.
If a robber steals from your house, we do not say we ‘invited’ the crime nor are we blamed for his robbery! Why is it that for rape we try to blame the rape survivor? You can’t blame a woman for the failings of a man.
- Rapists are abnormal or depraved men
Fact: Rapists are not typically psychopaths or deviant men. Generally they are sexually dominant men who believe in the use of force for sex and are hostile towards women. A rapist can well be your ordinary next-door neighbour or work-colleague waiting for the right opportunity.
- Women lie about being raped because they want to harass a man
Fact: Yes, some a few women might lie and try for promotions or money. But this is at the level of verbal threats. People lie about other crimes too. Women may be less prone to lie because they are looked down upon with pity and may stay unmarried.
- A woman who does not want to be raped can resist her attacker
Fact: Many women are too scared to fight for fear of being hurt even more. It does not matter if the victim was able to fight back or not. Rape is forced sexual intercourse against the will and consent of a woman
- A woman cannot be raped by her husband or boyfriend
Fact: Marriage or a mutual relationship is not a license for forced sex. A man forcing his wife or girlfriend through emotional or financial blackmail or to have oral and anal sex is considered a crime
- “Good” women who follow simple rules and use common sense are not raped
Fact: No woman, no matter how obedient, is safe from rape. The rapist chooses a woman based on her vulnerability, the context, and likelihood of escaping punishment. So we find women from across class, caste and age are potential victims.
- Rape is loss of izzat or the honour of a woman
Fact: Men in all societies like to consider women as ‘theirs’ or their property. Attacking a woman has come to mean attacking the honour of her male members of the family or community. It is not the woman’s fault that she was attacked so why should she be blamed for loosing izzat?
- Men rape women because they lose their self-control
Fact: Most rapists plan in advance and set up situations so the rape can take place. They can repeatedly commit rape. They are fully aware and conscious of what they are doing. A man rapes a woman not because of sexual desire but the thought of over powering and controlling her.
- Men rape because they are sexually frustrated
Fact: Rape has nothing to do with sexual frustration or the availability of prostitutes or pornography. This is just another way of saying ‘men can’t help themselves’ and that it’s up to women to find the solution.
- Women secretly want to be raped. They enjoy force
Fact: No woman, secretly or not, wants to experience violence, terror, brutal force and humiliating assaults. Sex is a mutually satisfying experience. Rape does not satisfy even the men.
- Women can also rape men
Fact: Not biologically possible. But it is known that men rape other men, young boys and gays e.g. in prisons etc.
- I will not get justice, so why speak out?
Fact: men rape because they know they can get away with it. If women speak out and bear the burden of police reporting and the court, there might be fewer rapists.
It is belief in common sayings like the ones mentioned above that make women and not the rapists feel guilty. Women fear being socially ostracised, pitied and seen as ‘impure’ or people who have lost their honour. It is no wonder that they do not report rapes.
It is important to remember that rape is a crime against women.
Rape is an act of power. Women are entitled to a life without fear of sexual violence.
Why do men rape women?
Most of the earlier explanations like men rape because they are deprived of sex or because some men are abnormal or maladjusted or drunk etc have been rejected as simple answers which may be true in some cases but do not give a holistic answer. Extensive studies in the past two decades have put forward another type of answer which explains and categorises different types of rape.
Violence in different forms is used by some to subdue or suppress the other. A father might slap a child to enforce rules. A teacher punishes a student. A colonial power uses its army to conquer another country and people. Force, the threat of force or violence is meant to show who is in power and control. If you do not do this or that, then I will … Men use rape or the threat of physical and sexual assault to subdue and control women.
Men use rape or the threat of physical and sexual assault to subdue and control women. The most likely response is – yes, it might be true for some individual men but how can you generalise it for all men! On the other hand, men and women will accept that we live in a man’s world. What does that mean?
We live in a world which is dominated by men in all walks of life, at home, at the office and in politics. Women are far behind. Middle class women might seem a bit ahead of those in ghunghats but they too have a long way to go. All of us are raised to believe that men are superior, are physically stronger and more intelligent than women. Women are ‘by nature’ meant to be home with the children. Women do not think so, but the odds against not conforming are too high. Women feel helpless or under pressure to limit their vision and activities. Women are subtly and directly told to be in the place assigned to them, within four walls, off the streets, not in male domains. If women try to break out, they are under threat from their own men or those outside.
So we are not saying that your father or husband is not decent and a liberal person. But as a group, men threaten violence to keep control over women and as a form of punishment to keep them within boundaries.
Help Yourself: Help Others
“When my friend told me about what had happened, she must have seen the shock on my face, because she stopped speaking. I felt angry at her. Why had she let this happen to her! Then I realized she needed sympathy not hindsight advice.”
If a woman or girl comes to you to speak of an assault on her…. Be a friend. She needs one after what she has gone through. Do not doubt her, question her or show astonishment. You need to comfort her and then suggest possible ways of taking action.
A friend is someone who listens, comforts and believes. It takes a lot of courage to speak out especially if it’s a person you know. Whatever may be the reason; this is not the time for interrogation.
Support the assaulted woman by believing her and listening to her. Understand that she might be in shock.
Don’t play the blame game. There is no point in saying it would not have happened if only, you would have listened. If only you had listened and not gone out. If only you had taken someone with you.
Allow her to take the decision of going for a medical examination and the police. Accompany her. Remember if the sexual violence had taken place recently, your friend will feel like bathing or cleaning up. It is symbolically getting rid of the incident.
- you should advise your friend not to wash herself or
- throw away her clothes
- and have a medical examination as soon as possible
Will people listen to me?
If you have been sexually assaulted, it is likely that you are going through a series of emotions and behaviours. It is necessary for you to understand that this is normal. There is no one pattern. It does not matter. Allow yourself to vent out your feelings. From what counsellors and women’s groups say, there is a gamut of feelings and reactions, you may feel. At least 12% victims of sexual assault did not share their trauma with anybody for 10 years or more [TOI, Mumbai, 11-8-2008]
It is natural to feel angry or hurt or even bewildered at being sexually assaulted. If you know what you are likely to go through, it will help you cope with them. You may feel:
Terribly angry at the person and your situation. “I would like to kill him. He has ruined my life.”
Embarrassed: “What will people think of me. If I disappear, I will forget and my life can go back to normal”.
Feel shamed and dirty. “I feel like washing up all the time. There is something wrong with me. I am no longer me.”
Shock and humiliation: “How could this have happened to me? It’s simply not possible.”
Frightened and not knowing what to do. “What now? I will lose my friends. They will pity me. How will I lead a normal life?”
Disbelief: “I must have been drunk. He cannot do this to me”.
Physical symptoms: “I get headaches or sometimes feel depression. Flashbacks of what happened return to haunt me”.
Recurring fear: “I feel like someone is following me. If a man looks at me, I feel he is going to jump on me.”
It is most important to remember that sexual violence is not your fault. You did not ask for it. And like others you will get over it and move on.
Preventing Sexual Assault
There is no guarantee that you can avoid rape. There are some ways you can reduce your risk of danger.
Rape is an act of power and rapists pick women who seem vulnerable. Most rapists are fearful about damaging their own reputation and would hesitate to molest a woman if she seems strong or vocal. Men rape when they think or know that they can get away with it.
In the family circle:
Trust your instincts. If a relative, family friend, neighbour or any boy or man in your family circle is behaving in a way that makes you feel physically uncomfortable, move away immediately.
Stop the behaviour or the person right in the beginning because the more time you keep silent the bolder he will become. Make all effort to avoid being alone with him. Avoid eye-contact, conversation and any touch with such a person. It does not matter if this man behaves normally with everybody else- he is behaving badly with you. If possible, tell this person that you do not like his behaviour and that you will definitely tell somebody if he persists.
Above all do not keep silent and do not ignore the problem- it will not go away unless you take adequate steps. Tell somebody, preferably a female relative, teacher or a friend, and ask them what to do. Approach a women’s organisation and ask them what help, advice or support they can offer you to prevent this situation deteriorating into a rape.
In public areas:
Be confident, walk with your head high, and be alert and aware of the situations.
Look and register who is looking constantly at you or following you. Do not allow any nervousness to show. Avoid lonely places and lanes or roads which are badly-lit.
If a man tries to come closer to you, raise an alarm the first time he does so. Most importantly, have the courage to resist the assault as you would instinctively any assault. Keep with you a sharp but innocuous object, if possible.
Make sure your cell phone is charged and you have it with you as well as some cab money.
If under pressure:
If someone is pressurising you to ‘be friends’ or to get into a relationship. Resist it
Trust your feelings. If you feel uncomfortable do not try to avoid it. Accept it and work out ways to stay away from the person.
Take the help of friends. Develop a signal or code system to convey danger signs.
If necessary say some lies to the person. Concoct a story of illness or family problems and get away. If you are rude, he may turn violent or nasty.
If in a party situation, do safe drinking and do not leave your drink unattended in case someone decides to spike it with drugs.
Going to the Police
Most women refuse to talk about the violence done to them. They may feel ashamed, guilty, hesitant, or afraid of taking up the issue with family members or the police. In the case of rape, it is even more accentuated because of prevalent notions of virginity.
“If I am beaten, there will be a lot of sympathy but if I say I am raped, there will be silence and social stigma. Why? Did I ask to be raped?”
Not only the raped person but also her family stands disgraced and sometimes socially boycotted. It is not surprising that only some rape victims gather the courage to report the incident to the police and take on the long and excruciating journey to court. Most women’s organisations state that the official figures for rape is only the tip of the iceberg. There could be at least twice or even thrice the number of unreported cases.
We need to take a decision on whether to formally complain or not? As a friend or a rape victim you need to be prepared for the experience at the police station and the court.
Should I go to the Police?
The decision should be the victim’s and not her family or her friend’s as it will be her going through the long and sometimes emotionally painful process. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have a legal right to report and seek justice.
Secondly, you will be moving the incident into the public arena i.e. it will have to be told to numerous people. You will have to lodge a complaint by making a statement giving all the details of what happened.
Be prepared to have the police say that it will be easier not to complain. They might use several arguments to make you change your mind. But it is their job to lodge a complaint and you must insist on it.
You can insist on a woman constable if available to interview you. You may be asked embarrassing questions. Be specific but brief and do not entertain irrelevant questions from the policeman like ‘did you mind the rape?’ or ‘what did you feel?’ etc. If you can, prepare the statement beforehand. Details are necessary and this document will be the basis of the court case. Please read the statement, sign it and ask for a copy free of charge.
The police will send you to a government hospital for a medical examination. This is extremely important as it will provide evidence of the rape. Victims and friends are therefore always advised not to wash up or throw their clothes away.
The medical forensic examination is to examine the raped woman and the rapist. It will include:
- a physical examination for marks
- examination of blood, blood stains, semen, swabs, sputum and sweat, hair samples and finger nail clippings through scientific techniques including DNA profiling and such other tests
- Description of material taken from the person of the accused for DNA profiling
The police will begin an investigation and then register a First Information Report. After which the proceedings will move to the arena of the Court. In some cases, especially if the person is well known, the Media gets wind of the incident. According to the rape law, the Media cannot reveal the identity of the rape victim.
Role of the Media
In the case of a foreign student who was a victim of date rape, details of her course, location etc were published which gave people an idea of who she could be. This is a violation of the spirit of the law and should be protested. Several women’s groups held a demonstration in front of the popular daily to highlight the ease with which newspapers publish ‘sensational’ material.
On the other hand, the Media can also be helpful in bringing the issue to public attention and raising public opinion which acts as a pressure on the police and the court.
Using the Law
We use the law in order to get justice. The courts are supposed to deliver justice but the proceedings and the delay are so mind boggling and tedious that they can defeat our best intentions.
“Everyone looked at me as if I was a rotten vegetable. Even the police and lawyers looked down at me. But I wanted to get the rapist into court. He will use his money to get out but let people know what he is really like”.
Court procedures can be extremely frustrating but they are the only way that punishment can be meted out and for bringing in a change in society’s way of treating rape victims. Judges and lawyers can be prejudiced and conservative.
In a 1996 study conducted by Sakshi, a feminist legal resource group in Delhi, interviewed 109 judges
- 55% believed that the moral character of a woman is relevant in cases of sexual abuse.
- 68% believed that “provocative” clothes are an invitation to sexual assault.
- 9% believed that a woman who says “no” to sexual intercourse often means “yes”.
The first belief is against the existing law. And the other two are myths generally believed but in reality untrue.
Rape survivors should anticipate certain procedures before going to court. Out of 100 cases reported, the rapist gets away in 85 cases. It takes determination and courage but we should attempt it as punishment is one deterrent for potential rapists.
Get support. The average length of trial for rape is between four to seven years. Apart from delayed justice, the lengthy duration of the case often wears out the victim and weakens the stand against the rapist, who is often set free to plan his next victim. [Deccan Herald, 25-11-2008]
- In between hearings, you must begin to live your life normally.
- Courts will get you to re narrate your story and try to see gaps or incorrect information. Reliving the rape is traumatic. Be dignified and firm about your information.
- Court cases, travelling to courts and the loss of wages adds up to more expenses. Get support from family, friends and women’s groups. In one case, a victim had confided in her employer who would give her leave to attend the court.
The Indian Penal Code has a law and clauses Sections 375 and 376 which are used in case of rape.
Rape legislation in India is covered by Sections 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
A man is said to commit “rape” who, except in the case hereinafter accepted, has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions
A man is said to commit “rape” if, except in the case hereinafter accepted, he has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions ….
- Firstly – Against her will.
- Secondly – Without her consent.
- Thirdly – With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested in fear of death or of hurt.
- Fourthly – With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband, and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.
- Fifthly – With her consent, when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.
- Sixthly – With or without her consent, when she is under sixteen years of age.
Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the sexual intercourse necessary to the offence of rape.
Exception: Sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.
Section 376 Punishment for rape-
a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.
Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than seven years.
(2) Whoever –
- being a police officer commits rape –
- within the limits of the police station to which he is appointed; or
- in the premises of any station house whether or not situated in the police station to which he is appointed; or
- on a woman in his custody or in the custody of a police officer subordinate to him; or
- being a public servant, takes advantage of his official position and commits rape on a woman in his custody as such public servant or in the custody of a public servant subordinate to him; or
- being on the management or on the staff of a jail, remand home or other place of custody established by or under any law for the time being in force or of a women’s or children’s institution takes advantage of his official position and commits rape on any inmate of such jail, remand home, place or institution; or
- being on the management or on the staff of a hospital, takes advantage of his official position and commits rape on a woman in that hospital; or
- commits rape on a woman knowing her to be pregnant; or
- commits rape on a woman when she is under twelve years of age; or
- commits gang rape, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may be for life and shall also be liable to fine:
Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment of either description for a term of less than ten years.
376A. Intercourse by a man with his wife during separation
Whoever has sexual intercourse with his own wife, who is living separately from him under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage without her consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years and shall also be liable to fine.
376B. Intercourse by a public servant with a woman in his custody
Whoever, being a public servant, takes advantage of his official position and induces or seduces, any woman, who is in his custody as such public servant or in the custody of a public servant subordinate to him, to have sexual intercourse with him, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
376C. Intercourse by superintendent of jail, remand home, etc
Whoever, being the superintendent or manager of a jail, remand home or other place of custody established by or under any law for the time being in force or of a women’s or children’s institution takes advantage of his official position and induces or seduces any female inmate of such jail, remand home, place or institution to have sexual intercourse with him, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
376D. Intercourse by any member of the management or staff of a hospital with any woman in that hospital –
Whoever, being on the management of a hospital or being on the staff of a hospital takes advantage of his position and has sexual intercourse with any woman in that hospital, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
Rape and its Effects
Rape is defined as intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent.
What is consent and what is not consent? Commonly it is understood as not agreeing voluntarily or freely to something. Simple as it seems, there is confusion regarding consent. Men claim to have got consent, whilst women say they did not give it. What is the reason for this miscommunication?
Consent means that both people are in agreement over something. If as two adults you wish to be intimate or have sex, it is up to you. But it is not so black and white. The shades of grey are so much that there is a confusion which also spills into legal cases.
You are in a relationship with a man. You may agree to intimacy but then change your mind about sex with him. The reason doesn’t matter. If the man keeps going even though he knows you don’t want to, it is considered sexual assault.
A man may threaten to hurt someone close to you if you refuse sex with him. In the film industry, promises for film roles are made to aspiring actors. The press often refers to it as ‘casting couch’. Or a knife is put at your neck. A teacher might threaten to fail you. A boss may withhold promotions or fire you. Under such situations, women may ‘consent’ but it is not done under duress or coercion that therefore not real consent given by the woman.
No consent is often linked with resistance. Men and police or even the court may say that if there are no marks of struggle to prevent rape, then it must be consent. Not necessarily. Even if you do not fight back, it is still sexual assault. There can be numerous reasons for not resisting like fear, threats and numbness.
If you know a victim of sexual assault or are one yourself, it might help to know that there may be psychological and physical effects of sexual assault on you. More than other forms of violence, rape is particularly emotionally and sometimes physically damaging. There is no one fixed time of recovery e.g. you may physically heal but might have painful memories.
This is not unusual. A study shows that about 65% women had different symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder even six months after the occurrence. And roughly the same percentage said they had suicidal thoughts intermittently for two years. [The Times of India Mumbai, 11-8-2008]
A clinical psychiatrist states, “The mental state of the victim is sad. They begin to hate their body, and consider themselves useless; there is categorically a lack of self-worth.” [DNA, 08/12/08]
Flashbacks are memories or re experiencing the trauma
Insecurity, vulnerability, fear, anger, helplessness—I fight these constantly… I flinch at a certain look that comes into men’s eyes—that look is there so often.” [No. 16 June-July 1983, Manushi]
The way to overcome these memories is to remind yourself that you are now in the present. Breathe slowly and return to your consciousness to the present. Do something which is comforting, like call a friend or be in a familiar room.
Mood and Memory Swings: you might move from acute stress of reliving the trauma to trying to suppress it completely.
Over expression or constantly talking about it. Being emotional, crying or breaking down.
Others might try to behave as if nothing happened.
You might be in shock and continuously think or wonder how it could have happened to you.
Suppression. You might even forget the date and location of the incident.
Withdrawal from friends, family, job and sometimes the city. Might feel like making a total break from the past and everyone associated with the trauma.
Depression and Suicidal Tendency
Symptoms of depression can be emotional and physical. For example, there might be weight loss, fits of crying, irritation, indifference or loss of sleep or anxiety. Some may have recurring thoughts of death.
Please click here – To find helplines and support organisations.
An Initiative of Akshara, a women’s resource centre