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Into the mind of the rapist

The rapist as the other, the sociopath or depraved migrant, is an illusion. In an urban milieu where violent patriarchy is the norm, brutal crimes against women are an everyday affair, often unnoticed behind closed doors. Aarefa Johari writes. Too close for comfort

india Updated: May 05, 2013 03:15 IST
Aarefa Johari

When a man rapes another man, he's called Gay. When he rapes 11 men, he's called Gayle.' This 'joke' became an internet sensation after cricketer Chris Gayle smashed 175 runs off 66 balls in a T20 match last week.

Wondering why it's funny? Perhaps because, in the imaginations of the more than 15,000 people who 'liked' and shared it, the thrill of hitting a ball hard, and leaving one's opponent helpless is akin to the savage excitement of rape.

The popularity of this anti-woman (and anti-gay) jibe reveals a discomforting truth that lies at the core of the increasing incidence of violence, rape and brutalisation of women and girls: For all the protests on the streets and the fingers pointing at migrants and labourers, misogynistic attitudes pervade the minds of People Like Us, not just the 'other'.

These attitudes, according to sociologists and mental health experts, are the grub on which sexual offenders are fed. To understand the mind of a rapist, then, we have to examine our own culture.

"Whether one becomes a sexual offender is determined not by one's socio-economic class but by the various forces of socialisation - family, school, peer group and mass media," says R Parthasarathy, a professor of psychiatric social work at the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.

The culture that dominates mass media outlets and most Indian families is one where patriarchy and violence are the norm.

"There are families where children see their fathers abusing their mothers, either verbally or physically. They see the same attitudes to women in our films and advertisements," says Katy Gandevia, a professor of social work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. "A culture with such little respect for women could produce a range of behaviours in people, from cracking sexist jokes to actual rape."

This is a culture that Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Manoj Bhatawdekar describes as 'emotionally illiterate'.

"The emotional development of children in India, irrespective of their social or economic backgrounds, is largely neglected. They are taught to suppress feelings such as anger and aggression, there is no healthy communication with adolescents about sexual needs," he says.

Sex is either portrayed as taboo or, through pornography and other media, as an act of aggression. "We shy away from teaching youngsters about the beautiful aspects of sex, and without this perspective, they can grow up into men who do not have empathy and respect for women, or for the aspect of consent," adds Bhatawdekar.

The lack of such empathy pushes people towards sexual violence, but is this problem restricted to just a few deviant individuals? Psychologists and social workers say that, at a larger, societal level, the problem is manifested in the millions of cases of domestic violence, marital rape and child abuse that go unreported, creating a mental health issue plaguing large swathes of society.

"As long as men believe they are entitled to having pleasure as and when they desire, above and in absence of consent from the other person, they will stay eluded from reality, and will wait for an opportunity to exert their want," says Mumbai-based psychologist Deepak Kashyap.

"Sexual offenders suffer from a psycho-social disorder of the mind," says Dr Yusuf Matcheswala, a psychiatrist from Mumbai. "They are unable to control their sexual impulses and are not even deterred by the prospect of punishment. But the socio-cultural fabric triggers their predisposition to such behaviour."

Child abusers typically choose young targets because they are vulnerable and are easy to threaten and silence, says Kashyap.

When it comes to gang rape, it is mob psychology that takes over. Mobs don't think, says Kashyap, they act, and there is a sense of security for members of the group, because they feel that responsibility is diffused, and that the act gains sanction from the others involved.

While psychologists believe that it is possible to help sexual deviants through therapy, most activists believe the solution lies in the hands of society as a whole.

"If we agree that faulty socialisation is responsible for creating a warped notion of manhood, then we must provide alternative models of masculinity for young men, and create enabling environments for them to explore these models," says Harish Sadani, sociologist and founder of the Mumbai-based non-profit organisation Men Against Violence and Abuse. "We need a pool of male mentors to channel the pent-up emotions of young men in a healthy manner, to create a paradigm shift in society. We must be willing to invest in our young men."


Violence, patriarchy leading to marital rape
Deepak Kashyap, counselling psychologist specialising in Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy

I was recently approached by a couple in their early 30s who had been married for two years. The woman said he wouldn't listen when she said no to sex. If pestering her didn't work, he would force himself on his wife whenever he wanted sex. As a result, Sangeeta found herself feeling emotionally battered and shrinking from all contact and proximity with her husband.

To try and trace the roots of his behaviour, I delved into his childhood. It turned out that he came from a stereotypically patriarchal family where women played no part in decision-making and where most conflicts were addressed through the use of violence. No one in his family talked about sex either, so, as a teenager, he had no one to help him understand and learn to control his urges.

Over four months of counselling, I explained to him that his wife's turning him down was not an insult or a rejection but a personal decision that, to him, could be considered a minor inconvenience. Over time, he learnt to think this way and also control his impulses. As a man, he learnt to stop violating their marriage and accept the fundamental equality of man and woman.
- As told to Deeksha Gautam

An inferiority complex that led to child abuse
Dr N Shalini, director, Psychiatric Services and Research Foundation
A woman came to me last year with her husband, a wealthy businessman. They had been married 10 years. From the beginning, he had shown no interest in sex, she said. Sex being a taboo subject, she did not discuss it with her family and kept her worries to herself.

Then she found out that he had been sexually abusing her sister's 12-year-old daughter since the child was six.

The joint family, living together in the same matrilineal home, had known for a long time, but had hushed up the matter for fear of what people would say if word got out. It was when his wife found out that she brought him to me.

At his first session, it was difficult to convince him that he was sick and needed treatment. He did not seem to think that he had done anything seriously wrong.

Over three months of counselling sessions, he became more cooperative and we made progress. His problems stemmed from an inferiority complex that had its roots in growing up with an older brother who was more academically inclined and eventually much more successful.

The man now recognises his sickness but is still battling psychopathic tendencies. His niece and his wife, meanwhile, are both still undergoing extensive counselling.
- As told to KV Lakshmana

A spiral from failure into domestic violence
Dr Samir Parikh, chief of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis hospital
It is a common misconception that domestic violence is restricted to the lower socio-economic classes. It isn't.

I had a 32-year-old patient who had an enviable professional and personal life until his business collapsed. Unable to deal with the sense of failure, he took to drinking heavily and began hitting his wife in anger, slapping, pushing and verbally and physically abusing her when he was drunk.

He then began casting aspersions on her character, accusing her of having illicit affairs, and beating her in anger and jealousy. This continued for almost a year, until his wife got tired of the effects of his behaviour on their two-year-old child and threatened to take legal action.

This threat, backed by his parents' insistence that he seek help, pushed him to begin counselling sessions six months ago. In his sessions, he was full of remorse, and that signalled that he was not psychopathic.

Starting with sessions every alternate day, he now attends sessions once a fortnight. His wife says he has stopped the abuse and seems like a changed person. She hopes that that phase of their life is gone for good.
- As told to Rhythma Kaul

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