In India, women’s groups are protesting a new ordinance designed to address sexual violence against women. The ordinance resulted from the rape of a 23-year-old woman last year. The woman was gang raped by six males and eventually died from her injuries. This sparked much outrage in India and abroad. A commission was created to determine the best way to address this problem.
However, the government’s response has irked the women’s groups in the country. Many of the complaints are valid. For instance, the Verma Commission, the commission mentioned above, suggested that marital rape receive the same punishment as any other kind of rape. However, the ordinance instead treats marital rape as a lesser form of rape, which in turn receives a lower sentence. The commission also recommended holding higher level officials responsible for the actions of their subordinates. This stemmed from a cases in which a higher ranking police officer ordered his junior officer to sexually torture a woman. The ordinance excludes this.
There are also some ironic complaints from women’s groups. Many people who heard about the gang rape case cried for the death penalty for the men involved. The ordinance allows for the death penalty in extreme cases, however, Verma Commission opposes this. Its opposition is not because the death penalty is an extreme form of punishment, but because of the potential lower conviction rates if a jury decides to acquit rather than execute the accused.
There was also a complaint about the changing of consent laws. In 2012, the age of consent in India was raised from 16-years-old to 18-years-old. This was intended to protect girls (not boys) from abusers, yet the Verma Commissions recommended changing the age of consent back to 16 because the law is being used against boys of different races and religions.
And then there is this:
Rejecting Justice Verma’s recommendations to ensure gender-specificity (male) of the perpetrator of rape and gender-neutrality for victims, the ordinance makes rape a ‘gender-neutral’ crime. This means that a man can accuse a woman of rape!!
“We are shocked to learn that the ordinance introduces a gender neutral perpetrator for sexual assault, suggesting that both women and men could potentially be charged with the offence. Rape, as we know, is a crime largely defined as male violence against women, with absolutely no evidence of women as perpetrators. This is in disregard to the Justice Verma recommendations and totally unacceptable,” said leading women rights lawyer Madhu Mehra.
By introducing gender neutrality in the law, the government is projecting a falsified image as though there was indeed some semblance of equality in the crimes that are committed against both men and women.
The truth remains that 95 per cent of women feel threatened when they step out from their homes — one in every six women are abused either physically or mentally. In every seven minutes a crime is committed against a woman in India, every 26th minute a woman is molested and every 34th minute one is raped. While so remains the fate of women in India, how many men can claim they have been raped, or groped or made to feel unsafe in the natural course of the day? May be one in a million!
In short, women’s organizations in India do not like that the new ordinance acknowledges that women can and do commit sexual violence against people. Women’s groups want the law gender specific so that only men can be charged with sex offenses, and the implication of their complaints suggest that women’s groups also want victims to be classified as only or predominantly female.
Here is a news flash for the women’s group in India: if you want to stop rape, you must stop all rape, not just assaults against women. Thousands of men and boys are victims of rape every day. In India, few services exist to help or support them. There is no outreach for them, and they face many stigmas and much ridicule should they come forward.
That is part of the reason why rape looks like a women-only crime. If men and boys do not think they will be believed, why would they come forward?
The gender neutrality of the law does no harm beyond allowing victims of female-perpetrated sexual violence to come forward. The chances for male rapists to abuse that law is there, but it is minimal at best. The way to address that possibility is by holding both sides to the same standards of evidence. They must prove beyond a reasonable doubt they were victimized. Given how rape against males is viewed in India, it is would be hard for any man to d think he could get off by accusing the woman he raped of raping him.