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How to shame the shameless sexual predators

Last updated on: January 02, 2013 15:26 IST
It'll be another sad day if the outrage over the Delhi gangrape withers away without achieving anything, says Raghothama C

The recent case involving the rape of the 23-year-old in Delhi and the subsequent events have laid bare our systemic failures, and the government's handling of the situation has only added to the general feeling of negativity in the country.

In spite of daily reports of rape and violence against women, it took a bestial incident in the national capital to provoke the conscious of the nation. And the government, having been rudely awakened from its slumber, while announcing cosmetic measures seems to be just playing the waiting game for the outrage to peter out. And being an unorganised and leaderless movement without any stated objectives, it is anybody's guess as to how long it might survive. It'll be another sad day if this outrage withers away without achieving anything.

True, it is beyond the means of NGOs and the public to systematically and scientifically address the issue of rape (crimes against women in general). It is for the government to research rape cases to get a better understanding on the crime, like: age group of the rapists, their socio-economic status, upbringing and motives, week and time of the day when such incidents tend to happen, and geography. But what the NGOs and the general public can do is complement government actions.

And before I put forth my ideas on what society (NGOs and the public together) can do, a general observation about rapes and crimes against women is in order.

Some studies in other countries on behavioural characteristics of rapists suggest that the motives can range from enhanced feelings of power to anger to sexual gratification. The 2011 crime data on National Crime Records Bureau records motives for murder and cybercrimes but not for rape (at least I didn't come across such data).

But the motives may not be too different compared to other countries. The NCRB data is also revealing, in that it shows that in more than 90 pc of the cases the rapists knew their victims and in more than 80 pc of the cases the rapists were either neighbours or "other known persons" (though it doesn't say anything about the quality of such acquaintances). The numbers suggest that other crimes against women like dowry deaths, cruelty by husband and relatives, sexual harassment etc are over eight times the number of rape cases.

And as for the issue of rape itself, I'm of the opinion that in most cases these rapists didn't get the courage to indulge in such acts overnight. They probably first indulged in eve-teasing and when that didn't face any opposition, they then graduated to such acts as groping, feeling women in packed trains or buses for titillation, and again when nothing happened, they got emboldened to indulge in such heinous acts as rape.

Our society being patriarchal in structure with a feudalistic background, it is not unreasonable to say that the mindset of men is the main reason for crimes against women in our country. And what adds to the problem is that when women are subjected to violence (domestic or otherwise) or treated as objects of sexual gratification, it rarely goes punished – either legally or socially.

Would such crimes happen so rampantly if society were to discourage young boys/teenagers/men from harbouring fancy thoughts about eve-teasing, molesting women or treating them as objects of sexual gratification before such thoughts even graduate and take more dangerous form as rape?

To put it another way, is it possible that by tackling the issues of minor offences against women we can reduce if not prevent more serious crimes against women? There is not enough data to suggest one way or another, but personally I feel it will make a difference.

And when it comes to punishment, the legal aspect should be handled by the government and that's a matter for different discussion but as a long-term effort society can start doing its bit by taking interest in initiating a culture of social punishment.

And in that regard, my thoughts (as a matter of idea, not details) are about initiating, in phases, a social culture of shaming the shameless: maybe starting with Delhi, then Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and other big cities and then slowly years later to second tier cities.

  • The government has set the ball rolling by deciding to put the details of rapists online. But the NGOs and the public should pressure the government to publish the details of the rape accused as well. This way the police can solicit information from the public leading to conviction
  • The police should also post online the pictures/videos obtained by their own personnel or from the public of men indulging in eve-teasing, stalking, outraging the modesty of women etc (Delhi Jt Commissioner Vivek Gogia seems to be open to the idea link here)
  • NGOs with help from volunteers among the public should start a social networking account dedicated solely to posting the pictures/videos of such sexual predators (rape convicts, rape accused, eve-teasers, molesters, stalkers etc) with the sources of the pictures attributed to the government website. This online publishing is like a billboard in the digital domain (a digital hall of shame)
  •  When that new billboard in the digital space becomes a new normal in the digital world, it has to make the transition from digital space to real world -- in schools and colleges, on their notice boards. Teachers can inform their students to watch out for these sexual predators and report their presence in the vicinity to the school/college authorities who in turn can talk to the police. Once a few institutions accept and adopt, others can be encouraged too.
  • When this social ostracisation (still limited in reach) becomes the new normal in some but important corners of the real world, malls should be prodded to put up big digital displays that keep rolling over the pictures of these sexual predators, warning the customers to watch out for and at the same time advising them to report their presence to the security.
    • If women refuse to visit these areas because of unsafe conditions and they start losing close to 40-50 pc of their revenue mostly during peak times, will their business still thrive? Women too can play the numbers game but before that the ground has to be set. That's why I say it can start in the digital space and then slowly move to the real world. May be the local FM radio stations can be roped in to help spread the word
  • Now that schools, colleges and malls have embraced the new normal culture of social ostracisation of sexual predators -- bus stops, railway stations, eateries, commercial streets etc should be encouraged to follow suit.
  • Also, the media should exercise moderation and desist from trailing the victims or their families. Instead they should hound the perpetrator's family and make them answerable to society. That way, hopefully over time, the social attitudes of ostracisation of the victim slowly changes to ostracisation of the perpetrator

This is what I call Shaming the Shameless. The public is already doing it but to a very limited extent in the form Twitter handles. So why not organise it and give it a shape and structure and enlarge the scope? I don't say this is easy or that it can be done in a month or two. It may take a few years but if it contributes in reducing, even by half, the harassment and torture women have to go through, isn't it worth trying?

Not necessarily these very ideas but any idea/s that names and shames these sexual predators.

The writer is an engineer by profession and takes interest in strategic affairs and issues of governance in general
Raghothama C