This Article is From Apr 27, 2013

What makes someone rape a child?

April 15, Gandhi Nagar, Delhi: A five-year-old girl is raped by two sexual predators, both young adults

The shocking gang-rape has raised many questions. Where are the perpetrators of rape coming from? What makes them commit rape?

To prevent sexual abuse and sexual violence against children, understanding the minds of the sex offenders is of utmost importance.

Experts in the field of mental health and child abuse say perpetrators are like any of us and they are living in our homes.

"If I have to say who is the person, I will say anyone. There is no mark or visible signs written on someone's face that he or she is a rapist or an abuser of small children. I think a lot of incest, rape and violence happens within respectable families. A lot of it is unreported, a lot of people don't talk about it," Vikramjeet Sinha, Art, Drama Therapist and Development Worker, said.

Monica Kumar, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Manas Foundation, says, "Of late, the kind of sexual violence and brutality and the dangerous kind of behaviour which we see, it seems like that every second person is a psychopath. While the survivor or the family needs support, the perpetrator needs to be understood. Where are they coming from? Is it a systemic failure?"

Anuja Gupta, whose Rahi Foundation counsels survivors of child abuse, said, "Sex offending of children is a compulsive activity. If a perpetrator abuses one child, there are very high chances of him continuing to perpetrate against other children. So even if you want to stop sexual abuse from happening, you need to actually intercept this and may be even, I would say, have treatment facility for offenders rather than just punishment in jails."

NDTV travelled to the villages of the two accused in the gang-rape of a five-year-old girl in Delhi on April 15. Both perpetrators belonged to a specific socio-economic group. One worked as a mason, the other in a clothes shop.

But the common feature they shared with most sex offenders is a history of violence - small acts that, over a period of time, escalated into deviant behaviour.

One of the accused, Manoj, belongs to Bharthua village of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar. There are pointers to a dysfunctional family. For instance, the reports surrounding Manoj's marriage, suggesting coercion and misdemeanour, and the grandparents deserted by the family.

"We are staying separately for 20 years. My wife is old and we earn our livelihood by working for people here. Sometimes we eat two times a day. Sometimes, just once," said Manoj's grandfather, Dheera Saha.

Two years ago, Manoj stabbed his schoolmate, Uttam Kumar, in Delhi. "He stabbed me from behind. He was angry because I had asked him to stop going through my bag," Uttam said.

Uttam and Manoj's families arrived at a settlement then and the police case was withdrawn. But it was just one of many disturbing incidents.

The second accused, Pradeep, has been a persona non grata in his own village, Ahayipur in Sheikhpura district of Bihar.

"He used to steal mobiles, purses from his own house and from others. A number of people had complained against him. Fed up, we asked him to leave the village," said Pappu Rajak, Pradeep's neighbour.

Mohammad Shahwaz, the sarpanch of Ahiyapur, added, "He was a bad character. When he was in Patna working in a hotel for some time, he was sent to jail for stealing."

But Manoj and Pradeep's abnormal pattern of behaviour was disregarded by the family and the community. The two men were out of control.

"In societies that have good social control mechanisms and/or legal framework, these tendencies are contained. I think the major trouble which we need to recognise about our society and the nation is that we are in this rapid transition phase in which we are going from traditional to the post-modern almost overnight. And so that individual susceptibility of the criminal behaviour finds easy vent in people who are prone to it because one there is disappearing social mechanisms, there is such anonymity in the urban megapolis living. There is very little fear, certainty of the criminal justice system. And there is very little pro-active preventing policing," says Dr Nimish G. Desai, Director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS).

To understand sexual violence by any rapist or molester, one needs to look at it from the point of view of individual pathology and other sociological factors.

"You can't look at individual pathology in isolation. You know we are living in a culture where women and girls are sexualised. We are living in what we called very high tolerance up till now at least of sexual violence or sexual innuendos. There is a collusion with something like this. So that is what you call as forming the rape culture which allows people to actually rape girls. Also men who are sexual with children are turned on by being sexual with children. Its the total helplessness of the child, the complete lack of agency that the child has," said Anuja Gupta.

There is a view that the predator's relationship with power is often accompanied by emptiness.

Every predator has been a prey in some ways or the other. It may not be a sexualised prey.

"I am not saying that every rapist has been raped. But what I can is that everyone who gets into the space of sexual violence has probably had a history of violence somewhere or the other where he has either witnessed someone close to him becoming a prey or has been a prey himself or herself. It's not just man versus woman. If you look at the history of boys who run away, who I have worked with, all of them have had some violence at home and many of them from their mothers. And the mothers have their share of violence from their fathers, from husbands. So it sort of transmits itself. So the nature of power is or the nature of violence is transmitive. And I think it's difficult to pinpoint as to is it a person who is perverted or is it a structure that is perverted? And I think both men and women are prey to patriarchy that the perverted structure brings about," said Vikramjeet Sinha.

There is violence on the streets and within the family. The family is a locked-up space, from where there is no escape.

Vikramjeet Sinha adds, "So this boy watches his mother get beaten and a sudden emptiness gets created. And this emptiness is like a black hole. So what the boy would often do is would look at things which can fullfill him; rise in adolescent hormones raging, sexuality power interfaced - at some point it either needs to feed on something. There are a lot of boys who have sex with each other as power relations, older and younger which happens in institutions, villages. And who is a prey then? The prey would either become a prey for the rest of his life, or become a predator because he thinks this is the norm. So he feeds on women who he thinks are weak, or younger boys who are pre-pubescent. Sex operated in these contexts is a power tool, not necessarily a lust tool. I always say 'yeh hawas nahi hai, yeh chaahat nahi hai, yeh satta ka khel hai'"

A study of juveniles in conflict with the law also found that many of them lacked engagement with work or family.

Naveen Kumar, a psychologist at Manas Foundation, said: "They are not part of an educational system. They are not part of any vocational system. Their families mostly are either dysfunctional or broken families. The very distinctive feature of Indian society that is, relatives and everything, is missing. You would find that these people have either come from somewhere or have moved to some other place. If this child or this juvenile or this adult is missing for four days or four hours, nobody's going to ask a question. He will not be identified if he's not there."

"The problem is one of mental depravity, one of dealing with psychopaths, of mental sickness, and that is not going to be sorted out by anyone resigning," was Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar's reaction on the recent gang-rape of the five-year-old girl.

Psychiatrists like Professor Nimish Desai, however, caution against labelling rapists as mentally sick.
It contributes to the negative attitudes towards the mentally ill since there is a distinction between mental illness and the rapists' sexual perversions or psychopathic behaviour.

Ashwini Ailawadi, Director of Rahi Foundation, said, "You put them into a slot, you give them a label and say this is who has done it. So, therefore, if he is mentally unstable, that's not my responsibility. What can I do? He is mentally unstable. If the police commissioner uses the term mentally unstable, psychotic, I would like to know is there a clinical diagnosis for him? You have this person in custody. Here is an opportunity for you to study and examine this person's behaviour rather than tossing these terms around."

While the police have a role to play in preventing sexual violence, in the ultimate analysis, we need a multi-sectoral approach.

From institutionalising gender studies, to identifying individuals at risk of developing feelings of emptiness and disengagement from society, these persons have to be provided support and positive supervision.