Several weeks ago, I wrote about the Indian government’s reaction to lobbying for changes to their rape statutes. I noted in the piece that women’s groups in India opposed changing the statute from “rape” to “sexual assault” because it included women as potential rapists. Their argument was that rape is an expression of patriarchal power, therein making it impossible for women to rape men, and that men accused of rape would simply accuse the women of rape, both of which are typical feminist arguments against acknowledging male victimization.
It appears the Indian government bowed to the women’s groups demands:
Bowing to pressure from women activists, the government has decided to restore the term rape in criminal law that states only men can be booked for committing the offence against women. It has also decided to lower the age of consent for sex from 18 to 16 years. These are fresh changes proposed by the Centre in its criminal laws (amendment) bill, which will replace the rape ordinance issued on February 3. […] The [JS Verma] panel — set up to look into rape laws after the December 16 Delhi gang rape — had recommended that the offence be kept gender-specific and the age for consensual sex be retained at 16 years in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In its ordinance, however, the government replaced the term rape with sexual assault, stating that any ‘person’ can commit the offence.
A senior government official explained that a section of the current law dealing with “unnatural sex and related activity” (Section 377) already addresses sexual violence committed by women. However, the law is very specific:
377. Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.
The law was originally written to punish homosexuality, hence the term “voluntarily” as the part of the mitigating factor. While the law does allow for harsh punishment, the implication of the law is that the “victim” is a willing participant. (Coincidentally, until the passage of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011 boys were not recognized as victims of sexual assault or rape. All offenses against them were handled under Section 377. The law also does not recognize women as potential offenders, again as a result of women’s groups protests.) If India were to apply this law in cases where female sexually assault males and females, the government would imply that no sexual violation against the person took place, only a violation of the law against “unnatural” sexual activity.
And this is precisely what women’s groups in India wanted. They did not want the law to recognize women as potential rapists, and protested against the government’s attempt to create a gender neutral law. The government tried making the law gender neutral since 2011, and each attempt failed. From the articles I have read, women’s groups also oppose the recognition of men and boys as potential victims under the argument that it ignores the “gendered” nature of sexual violence.
As it stands, the current sexual offense statutes, Section 375 and 376, do not recognize males as potential victims. The Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2012 would have allowed for male victims to be recognized, however, that has been rejected. The current proposal, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013 retains the change of “rape” to “sexual assault” element in section 375, but maintains the notion that sexual violence is a “gendered” crime. Given such, it is unlikely that the “gender neutral” laws would actually be appiedy to male victims of rape, particularly given the opposition to including women as potential offenders.
And again, that is exactly how women’s groups and feminists in India want it.