(A recent New York Times article has some disturbing statistics on the number of child sexual abuse images flooding the internet, despite precautions and laws in place. What makes someone a paedophile? FIT is republishing an older article that explores the mind of an abuser)
When a group of men, 22-23 of them, get together to assault and rape a young 11-year-old hearing impaired girl, and the abuse goes on for seven months, you question if humanity has died. Did not one of them have the conscience to stop it? Could not one of these men, all employees of a gated community in Chennai, raise a voice? This wasn’t a spur of the moment, under influence, crime of passion. This was a planned step-by-step action, carried out by a group of grown men, conscious, eyes wide open, of what they were doing.
What made them do it?
There is no single answer.
Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:
Several studies have been carried out in the past to understand why men rape. Or why men rape children. Many of these studies are flawed because they either rely only on men in jail, or a select group – like colleges. They are flawed because they don’t consider the characteristics of those who got away. Who were never caught.
The revelation is disturbing and frustrating. Rapists can’t be put under one bracket. There’s no one-size fit-all description of a rapist that you can use to identify, and pick out those who rape from those who don’t in a line up of life.
There was a disturbing study carried out by a researcher in the US in 1976, as quoted in this New York Times article. He put out an advertisement in a paper asking ‘rapists’ to call him. Their identities would be hidden. He was shocked when over 200 men called him back and spoke about why they did it. Among them were a school administrator, a computer programmer and other ‘normal’ men. They were from different backgrounds, different economic class, different race and ethnicity. Most of them had no guilt about their actions.
I spoke with Dr Rajat Mitra of Swanchetan Society for Mental Health. He has spent years working with inmates at Tihar jail and other sexual violence predators who are brought to him. I asked him a simple question on top of everyone’s mind. HOW could this happen.
“In a group dynamic, there is always a leader. He takes the first step, and others follow.”
This is not a homogeneous group, he explains.
Some may be ambivalent about their actions, some may even want to help the child in their own way, but the group loyalty takes priority.Dr Rajat Mitra
Dr Kamini Bhoir, a psychologist who works with Mumbai police talks about opportunity.
Many of these men have strong impulse control desire which is a psychological problem. And then there is an opportunity that is presented and the urge to gratify themselves is too high.
In this incident, police say, some of the men raped the child, some fondled, some assaulted and filmed and others watched the videos.
Dr Mitra explains that even if not all of them may fit into the pedophile category, many of them are. A child is easy prey. She also fits their distorted sense of sexuality.
Secondary sexual characteristics in a woman (pubic hair, enlarged breasts, wider hips) turn them off. An adult woman is threatening. Many men I have spoken with say they prefer half woman, half child. A child on the verge of puberty.Dr Rajat Mitra
While research on men who rape remains ambivalent, there are some characteristics that do emerge. Most of them have a sense of:
- Anger and Entitlement: Anger is one thing all experts can agree on as a common pattern. The idea of masculinity they’ve grown up with has been threatened. This leads to entitlement. They were entitled to sex and they will get it.
- Power is at play: They may not feel it all the time, but at that moment they are all powerful.
- Opportunity: There was opportunity, and I acted on it. Many of them don’t call their action rape, but non-consensual sex.
- Blurred idea of ‘right or wrong’: This seems right, so must be right. This is hardwired in their brain. They have a distorted sense of sexuality.
- Manipulative personality: While there is no specific pattern in most rapists, pedophiles are manipulative and are often charming. They don’t feel responsible for their actions.
- They start early: And with each action, they feel more in control.
History of a Rapist
There is no specific pattern, but in this case, Dr Mitra says he wouldn’t be surprised if these men have raped and assaulted earlier.
Men who rape start early, and their first target is usually someone they know.
Could the leader, in this case a 66-year-old lift operator, have assaulted others before?
There is a very high possibility, but not necessarily at the same place. Pedophiles rarely revisit the same place of crime. They fondly remember what was it like the first time and relive it in their mind. But they’ll act out their subsequent crimes elsewhere.Dr Rajat Mitra
Socioeconomic inequality, anger and upbringing plays a role. But there is definitely more reporting now. I see it in my daily experience.Dr Kamini Bhoir
Shattered Sense of Security
For many, who live in gated communities, this incident has shattered their false sense of safety. Dr Mitra says the problem with those who provide security is that while they pick guards, they are only looking at their physical characteristics. No evaluation is done on their mental abilities. This is a serious lacuna that extends across all those who provide security – from private agencies, to the police and the military.
But the biggest fallacy would be to view this crime only in a class setting.
In an economically higher-class setting, men know they’ll get away with it and they do. It just so happens that those in lower economic class get caught more.Dr Rajat Mitra