Does “digital rape”, has anything to do with the sexual assault committed online? Is the victim’s body genuinely exploited? Given the excessive digitalization in our world, one might think like it, especially when sexual harassment is too common through digital platforms. Women getting rape threats, nasty comments, and thirsty eyes are not uncommon in today’s world. But, the term digital rape has nothing to do with gadgets like computers, laptops or any meta-owned platforms. Digital Rape is a newer terminology in the world of sexual offences, The anatomical meaning of ‘digit’ is a finger, thumb, or toe, and penetrating the same without one’s consent and will is called ‘Digital Rape’
DIGITAL RAPE: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AMENDMENT OF LAWS
“Rape is not raped unless there is intercourse”. The predators of sexual assault were defended for years only because the penetration was done by other body parts or objects which was not included under the rape laws. But with times changing Indian Justice System has updated its understanding of sexual assault and now has included offences like “Digital Rape”. The term “Digital Rape” is gender-neutral and it is applied to all offenders and victims. But Indian Legislation covers it as female victims and male offenders. It further categorizes rape victims into two categories: majors and minors. The term “Digital Rape” sounds unfamiliar and new because earlier such acts were regarded as molestation rather than rape. Digital Rape was not included in IPC before but, after the heinous Nirbhaya rape case, the Justice Verma Committee was formed and suggested different reforms for matters involving crimes against females. The very prominent incidents that made “Digital Rape” fall under the ambit of section 375 IPC were:-
A 2-year-old girl child was digitally raped
In an outrageous incident, a two-year-old girl child was brought bleeding into the Mumbai hospital, where doctors discovered her vagina was perforated yet there were no signs of sexual assault. Later it was found out that it was her father who was penetrating the girl with his fingers. He was taken into custody but was spared any charges or punishment under Section 375 IPC.
A 60-year-old lady was digitally raped in New Delhi
A 60-year-old lady was sexually assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver who used an iron rod to penetrate her while she was visiting for a relative’s wedding. The driver was arrested but wasn’t convicted under Section 376 IPC. These incidents pointed out the loopholes of Section 376 which talks about the punishment of rape and section 375 which didn’t have digital rape included in the definition of rape which made it tough for the law to convict the offenders. After 2013, a new part was implemented in the legislation to protect and safeguard the dignity of women and young girls from these brutal acts. The definition of Section 375 was amended in 2013 to broaden the definition of rape.
A man is said to commit “rape” if he-
Section 375 (b) “inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of a body, not being the penis, into the vagina, the urethra or anus of a woman or makes her do so with him or other people.”
PUNISHMENTS FOR DIGITAL RAPE IN INDIA
The punishments are given under POCSO Act and IPC. According to the POCSO Act, the offender will face prison for a duration of five years and if the offence comes under Section 376 IPC then the term of punishment may be enhanced to ten years or life imprisonment. The term defined under POCSO Act is under Section 3, Section 5 and Section 6 for aggravated penetrative sexual assault. Section 5 (m) mentions the penetrative sexual assault committed on a child below 12 years. The punishment is given under Section 6 which is for not less than 20 years, it may be extended to life imprisonment.
According to some research, 70% of the time the offender is close to the victim. The cases of digital rape often go unreported because of social embarrassment to the family. Parents usually don’t report because of the fear of being ostracized by society. Digital Rape is no less detrimental than rape. Usually, the victims are minors who get mentally affected by the tragic incident and it breaks the core functioning of the victim. As per a report by ‘Legal Service India’, “one must feel strange knowing that only 1% of the cases registered in which the offender was a stranger, just because they are not violating her body with their penis, criminals try to digitally rape women and children,”
RECENT CASES OF DIGITAL RAPE
On August 31, Akbar Ali from West Bengal was found guilty of digitally raping a 3-year-old and was given a life sentence. The incident happened in 2019 in Noida when the girl was playing outside her house and came back crying. The child told her ordeal to her mother, and the family got to know that Akbar enticed the child with toffees and took her to his room. By the POCSO Act, the accused was sentenced to life in jail and a fine of 50,000.
In June 2022 a child was reportedly a prey of being digitally raped by her father in Greater Noida. FIR was lodged by the mother of the child when she complained of genital pain, and she revealed that it was her father who was doing the wrong act to her. According to police sources, the couple was arguing for a long time and were living in different rooms.
Earlier in 2021, a man named Maurice Ryder, 80–an year-old graphic artist was accused of committing various indecent acts with a girl for 7 years. The girl complained when she turned 17. It was alleged that he was her teacher.
A girl was digitally raped by a neighbour in her house in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad. The incident took place when her mother was away at work. The girl was playing with the accused’s children when he took her inside a different room and digitally raped her. The accused hushed up the matter when the girl tried to complain to his wife. The mother of the girl complained, and the man was booked under Sections 376, 509 and Sections 5 and 6 of the POCSO Act.
Rape is a despicable offence. The offender most of the time is a trusted source of the victim and it often leaves the case unreported allowing the accused to walk freely. The act of rape is not a crime against a victim but against humanity. The cases related to digital rape were very difficult to prosecute before the amendment. Before 2013, the definition of rape in the Indian Penal Code did not include digital rape. However, following several gruesome rape incidents in the whole country, the Supreme Court made some amendments to the definition of rape after understanding that there are additional ways to disrespect a female’s dignity and very little is known about digital rape. The sooner our politicians look into the matter, the better it will be for the whole society. The predator should not be vindicated only because the legislation is insufficient to hold them accountable. By prosecuting the perpetrators, it sends a strong social message of zero tolerance. We as a society should broaden our understanding of rape culture. It is important to acknowledge that rape culture goes beyond the traditional notion of a man assaulting a woman wearing short clothes at night. More conversations and awareness programmes should be initiated about how society can work together to curb this heinous crime.
Author(s) Name: Mehar Kaur (Faculty of Law, University of Delhi)