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Why people watch rape videos: Psychology and technology of it

india Updated: May 24, 2015 19:01 IST
Abhishek Saha
Abhishek Saha
Hindustan Times
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The recent arrest of a driver in Bengaluru for circulating videos of rapes and gang-rapes uncovered the dark world in which acts of brutal violence against women are turned into someone else’s entertainment.

Kaushik Kuanr , 26, was arrested by the CBI last week, reportedly with more than 450 such videos in his possession. He was the third person to be nabbed after Hyderabad-based anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan started an online campaign, #shametherapist, in February to bring to book five men seen in a WhatsApp video raping a woman.

So why do a large number of people watch and share videos such as those circulated by Kuanr?

Experts and activists say certain strains in human psychology and the easy access to the internet – and often to extreme pornographic content – can contribute towards such behaviour.

Some experts and reports also say the existence of the “deep web” – the portion of the internet that cannot be indexed by common search engines –helps in consuming gore and violent content online.

‘A large base of voyeuristic and sadist consumers’

“The #shametherapist campaign has exposed that there is a large voyeuristic and sadistic consumer base for which these videos were uploaded on the net,” Sunitha Krishnan told Hindustan Times.

Krishnan’s campaign against the uploading of videos of gruesome rapes on social media networks and a subsequent CBI investigation sparked a debate on the perversion of watching a woman being tormented, and deriving pleasure from it. It also focused attention on internet penetration coming in handy for such activities.

“Among the uploaders of such videos, there must be a widespread sense of impunity and a ‘nothing will happen to me’ attitude. That indicates a complete failure of the criminal justice system and the attitude of the larger society,” said Krishnan, the co-founder of Prajwala, an NGO that rescues and rehabilitates victims of sex trafficking.

Krishnan contended that mainstream pornography, which is widely available on the internet, is often the “ground from which such behavioural pattern starts”.

According to a recent study based on the analysis on user data from one of the largest porn sites in the world, Pornhub, Indians are among the most "prolific consumers" of internet pornography, accounting for 40% of the website’s 14.2 billion visits.

‘Sexuality is often a non-discussed topic’

Psychiatrists attribute the watching of such videos to an inherent tendency in human beings to be voyeuristic witnesses to miseries befalling others.

“As long as it’s not happening to me or my loved ones, the pain and violence are okay – that’s the common psyche,” Dr Nimesh Desai, director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), told Hindustan Times.

This attitude is one of the reasons that leads people to videos of violence against others without any emotional or moral conflict, he said.

Another reason for watching videos depicting extreme sexual acts, psychiatrists say, is suppressed sexuality that leads to abnormal curiosity.

“Sexuality is often a non-discussed topic and that leads to curiosity. Many a times, people can actually be suffering from paraphilia, a condition characterised by abnormal sexual desires,” said Dr Sameer Malhotra, head of mental health and behavioural sciences at Max Healthcare.

He said over-exposure to pornography or alcohol abuse might aggravate paraphilia, which is a treatable problem.

“A correct combination of moral education and age-appropriate, sensitively handled sex education can go a long way in rectifying such problems,” Malhotra added.

However, psychiatrists acknowledge that the easy availability of pornographic material – even extreme videos – on the internet have made corrective measures a bit difficult.

‘The internet has always been an internet of everything’

The range of pornographic material on the net is extensive – from “amateur couples” on webcams to “hardcore” sexual acts in high-definition video.

But apart from commonplace pornographic sites, experts say websites with gore, violence, paedophilia and bestiality have existed for a long time now. And much of it is available on websites in the deep web that is more difficult to track.

A popular example of such sites is Silk Road, a marketplace for illegal drugs on the deep web that was taken down by the FBI in 2013.

“The internet has always been an internet of everything. Shock websites have always been there. There's nothing new. People familiar with the internet have known about them for years,” a source, who has researched the behavior of the deep web, said on condition of anonymity.

A 2009 report in The Guardian quoted a research paper as saying that the value of deep web content is immeasurable because “internet searches are searching only 0.03% …of the (total web) pages available”. There is also software which makes one’s activities on the internet anonymous.

But recently users have taken to posting paedophilic and gory content even on popular sites like Facebook and Reddit.

Recently, a number of Facebook pages in Malayalam and Tamil were exposed, leading to the arrest of a man in Andhra Pradesh who ran the page “Chinna ponnu veriyargal” (Crazy about small girls). Popular social networking forum Reddit was in the news in 2012 for a controversy over the posting of paedophilic content.

According to Facebook’s own admission, steps can be taken to take down such pages only when a large number of people report such abuse. Reportedly, such pages cannot be blocked only if one or two people complained about the abuse.

“Technology is a double-edged sword and can’t be blamed. The problem is with how we use it,” said Krishnan, adding that children should be trained to use the internet in a responsible manner.

Desai said the only way to stop such behavioural patterns is to sensitise youngsters by questioning how they would have felt if someone they loved was the victimised woman or child in the video clips.

(The writer tweets as @saha_abhi1990)