Why a gender neutral anti-rape law isn't anti-women
Making a law gender neutral cannot be seen as yet 'another tool' with which to attack women. Instead it should be viewed as a tool to protect male victims and encourage them to come forward and seek justice under India's legal system.
The question on whether or not rape should be made gender neutral has had many activists up in arms, and is also reportedly a source of conflict between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Law Ministry, leading to a delay in the introduction of the anti-rape law in Parliament.
Leading women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan has been one of those who has been against the definition being made gender neutral.
"They are making the law against rape gender-neutral, where the accused is concerned. This means women can now be accused of rape. Now when we were struggling on the streets, was this what we were asking for? Is it a problem is society that women are going around raping men?", she told Firstpost in an interview.
With all due respect to Ms Krishnan, I strongly disagree.
While it is true that more women get raped and sexually assaulted, it does not mean it does not happen to men at all. Men do get raped - mostly by other men but yes, sometimes by women too. So arguing that the law can be misused is no argument to not pass one at all.
Male rape is in fact, more widespread than many of us think. Delhi gangrape suspect Ram Singh, who allegedly committed suicide on Monday, claimed that he was raped by other male prisoners. And according to Firstpost editor G Pramod Kumar, the problem of male rape in Indian prisons is a real problem:
"The People’s Union of Civil Liberties had this to say about Tihar way back in 1981: “When a young boy enters, the prisoners have been known to have bid a price for the boy. The price offered is in terms of 'bidis', soap or charas. Often prisoners have been divided into camps and the groups have fought each other on the issue of who shall have the new entrant.”
The Guardian also did a harrowing story on how male rape is endemic in many of the world's conflicts.
"Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped" the report said.
But male rape is not just restricted to extraordinary situations like war and prison.
A 2012 psychology study noted that "Victim surveys of British and American males have shown that 3 to 8 percent of males reported at least one adulthood incidence of sexual assault in their lifetimes with at least 5 to 10 per cent of all rape victims being male"
A provocative Stanford university study titled 'psychology of men and masculinity' which states that there are several 'myths'that often lead to the perception that male rape is not a 'real' phenomenon. These include beliefs like:
- Men cannot be raped
- “Real” men can defend themselves against rape
- Men are not affected by rape (or not as much as women)
- A woman cannot sexually assault a man
- Male rape only happens in prisons
One possible solution has been to at least recognise that men can be rape victims, even if the law does not see women as perpetrators. This would at least allow male victims to seek redress under law when they are raped by other men. This is vastly better than taking men out of the equation altogether.
However it is my belief that making a law gender neutral should not be seen as yet 'another tool' with which to attack women. Instead it should be viewed as a tool to protect male victims and encourage them to come forward and seek justice under India's legal system. Taking away their right to seek redress under law is just another form of discrimination, and is in no way a victory either for women or the cause of feminism.
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