“I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was raped by a male relative for 11 long years from the age of seven to 18”, said Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist who was named as one of the most influential gay men in the world by The Guardian newspaper. His revelations are in stark contrast to our national debate about rape, where males are always the perpetrators and never the victims.
It was only in April that a 16-year-old boy from Mumbai claimed that his best friend’s mother had assaulted him sexually for three months. The woman reportedly claimed that she was pregnant and threatened the boy to frame him in a rape case if he ever told anybody what had happened. The story is a cruel awakening of the fact that around 57% children across the country are being abused by adults they trust and more than half of these children are male.
Our society is almost unanimous in its opinion that “men can’t get raped”. Men can ‘obviously’ not be raped by women. Sexual violence against men is still a concept that hasn’t found many takers. This is when disbelief replaces empathy. The survivors get little compassion from family and friends.
In case, a man is sexually violated, he is dismissed as ‘unmanly’. It hurts more when people around him say, “he must have enjoyed it”. In the absence of any active organisation and social acceptance, these victims are forced to keep mum. Their pathos goes unreported. It is time our society starts accepting the reality that another man or a woman can inflict sexual violence on a man.
Loopholes in Law
When Kevin Kantor says, “No one comes running when young boys cry RAPE”, you have to believe them, at least if you are in India. The first step to amend is to admit. Let’s admit the fact that the present legal system has no provision for men to seek legal recourse if they are raped. Even before the Justice Verma Panel recommended making rape a gender-neutral crime, there were several other voices proposing the same. They have been ruled out.
According to a Mumbai-based advocate, “The consequences of rape for a woman are far-reaching. She has to battle social stigma, social mindset. While fixing marriages, nobody asks a man if he is a virgin”. That partly explains why a separate school of thought has emerged that is completely against making rape gender-neutral. One of the media reports quoted a Delhi-based advocate saying: “Why should rape laws be gender-neutral? That would be making a mockery of what is happening in the country. There are no instances of women raping men”.
Much to the dismay of Indian men, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code does not include them as rape victims. India’s anti-sodomy law, Section 377, is the only resort for them. However, the law is fraught with challenges. Even if the victim is assaulted by a male attacker it is not actually considered as rape. The law does not outline any difference between consensual and non-consensual sex between male adults. Moreover, if a female is the perpetrator, the victim is left with no option to seek justice.
What’s the Way Forward?
A lot depends on the mindset. That men can be vulnerable and can undergo physical and psychological trauma should be acknowledged. Advocacy groups and common people have to work towards creating an environment that is conducive for male victims to talk about their plight, and that too, without the fear of being ridiculed.
There is also a need to bring out the data on male rape victims in public and engage in an ongoing dialogue to ensure that the male rape survivors get justice. A knee-jerk reaction every time a case is reported won’t do any good. It has been long since no one has challenged social constructs that stereotype men and cast them away as ‘bad’.