Digital Rape: Laws, Punishment and Our Responsibilities

How does it feel when you read that a 2 years old girl in Mumbai was brought to the hospital (in 2012) by her mother with a bleeding vagina. And on examinations, doctors found that the little baby’s vagina has been ruptured, though there was no sign of sexual assault.

On further investigations, it was discovered later that, it’s her father who was penetrating the little innocent girl with his fingers. He was arrested but was not charged or punished under section 376 of IPC.

In another instance in Delhi a 60 years old lady was raped by an auto- rickshaw driver. He used an iron rod to penetrate her, when she was visiting a relative’s wedding.

Though the driver was arrested but again wasn’t convicted under section 376 of IPC. Don’t you feel ashamed of yourself for being a human and one of your fellow human being is able to commit such merciless and disgusting crime and the law of our nation is standing like a crippled creature, allowing them to leave without punishment with citation that “there is no act of sexual assault”!

This pointed out the various loopholes in Section 376 of the IPC which deals with rape crimes. But recently, on 30th August 2022, the Surajpur District and Sessions court had convicted a 65 years old man for committing DIGITAL RAPE on a three-and-a-half-year-old girl at Salarpur village under Noida Sector 39 Police Station in Uttar Pradesh.

According to reports, the accused identified as Akbar Ali is a native of Malda, West Bengal. In 2019 he traveled to Salarpul village in Noida Sector 45 to visit his married daughter. During his visit, he lured a neighbor’s minor daughter on the pretext of giving her sweets/ toffees. Once she came to his house he ‘digitally raped’ the girl after which the girl’s parents filed a written complaint against him.

A medical examination of the girl was done and once the rape was confirmed the accused had been arrested. Ali has been in the district jail since then. He was refused any interim bail. Along with life imprisonment, he has also been slapped with a fine of Rs 50,000.

After reading the term Digital Rape you must be thinking that, it’s a kind of rape which must be related to computer, internet, virtual or digital world. But the fact is digital rape is not a tall related to digital world or cybercrime, but the English term Digit, apart from “numbers” and “language of technology/computer” also stands for fingers or toes (the word digital comes from the same source as the words digit and digitus the Latin word for finger, as fingers are often used for counting).

The term ‘digital rape’ is comparatively a newer one. Previously such acts were considered molestation and not rape. Prior to 2013, Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code defines rape as “sexual intercourse (mean penile-vaginal penetration and further ruled (based on the wording of the section) that ejaculation is not required for intercourse to be rape) with a woman against her will, without her consent, by coercion, misrepresentation or fraud or at a time when she has been intoxicated or duped, or is of unsound mental health and in any case if she is under 18 years of age.”  However, with the unfortunate incident of Nirbhaya in December’ 2012, new rape laws were introduced in Parliament and the act was considered a sexual offence under Sections 375 and 376 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

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In 2012, according to the prevailing definition of rape, the insertion of an iron-rod into the victim’s vagina did not amount to rape, although penile-penetration did. Any other penetrative act, such as oral sex, digital penetration, or penetration by objects were excluded from the purview of the rape law. Hence, should an act of penetration that is not penile-vaginal be classified as rape? This was an important question before the Justice Verma committee.

Knowing that there are other ways that a man can use to violate a woman or child’s dignity, the Supreme Court had to make some changes to its definition of rape. Keeping all the above cases and heinous instances of crime, the definition of rape was extended in 2013. According to this new definition, “rape is considered an act of forcefully penetrating a woman’s vagina, mouth, anus or urethra by a penis, any foreign object or any other part of the body”. And according to POCSO )Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012 the punishment for digital rape includes: the offender will be punished with a jail term of 5 years and if it comes under section 376 of the POCSO Act, the jail term can be extended from a time period of 10 years to life imprisonment. There are several sections of POCSO devoted to penalties. 

 While talking about Digital Rape, the thought of virtual or digita or cyber world often come to mind. But any sexual offence done online, such as falsifying someone’s online identity or abusing any online platform, is not considered “digital rape.”

However, the Virtual or Cyber rape is defined as, “an act of forcing an unwilling sexual act on someone in a virtual environment. It could involve a non-consensual touch, exposure, or manipulation of the character representation“. The Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 2013 takes care of the protection of women in the online (as well as offline) space: Section 228A of IPC – vengeful posting of images or videos of rape victims; Sections 354A and 354D of IPC – cyber bullying and cyber stalking against women; 

Section 354C of the IPC – criminalizes the offense of Voyeurism; Section 507 of the IPC – punishes criminal intimidation by anonymous communication with a term which may extend to two years of imprisonment; Section 509 of IPC – comes to your rescue if someone is constantly bugging you with derogatory verbal abuse because of your gender. 

According to reports in 70% cases of rape, the person who offended the modesty of a woman or violated the dignity of a child are someone who they know personally. Usually these crimes are committed by the people who are close to the victim. Close friends, maternal/ paternal uncle or other relatives, cousins, neighbors and in some cases their own father are found to be accused. 29% of the time the offender was someone whom the victim knew through their social circle, either through their friends or work circles or someone they are meeting for the first time through a date.

Only 1% of all the rape cases registered in which the offender was a stranger. Types of rapes in India include : DATE RAPE/ acquaintance rape (non-domestic rape performed by someone the victim knows but has never lived with); GANG RAPE (rape of a single victim by multiple perpetrators); MARITAL RAPE/ spousal rape (Rape between a married or de facto couple without the permission of one partner); CHILD RAPE (to sexually abuse a child); CUSTODIAL RAPE (when a man commits rape on a woman while she is in his care); DIGITAL RAPE (forcible and unwanted penetration of a person’s fingers or toes).

In India, laws solely designate female victims and male perpetrators, despite the fact that the phrase “digital rape” is gender-neutral and applies to all types of victims and offenders. Among all the registered digital rape cases, most of them came into notice only after the child or victim had suffered from a visible physical injury or bleeding and pain in the private parts.

As most of the time the victim is a child so it becomes easier for the offenders to hide the act. So only by making corrections in the existing law or bringing-up new punishment acts, are not going to bring much changes. It’s also the responsibility of parents that they should teach their children about good, bad and inappropriate touch (irrespective of gender and when they reach the age where they can communicate). Also teach your children not to readily accept anything like toffees, chocolates or toys and to report you when someone tries to lure them.

Try to listen to every story and incident your child tells, happening when you are away. Try to understand and rule out if your child is specifically afraid of someone or trying to avoid that person. Become a friend to your child, listen to their stories and give them a fearless childhood. Every child has the right to have a non-traumatised childhood. Never blame or harsh on your child or deprive them of their basic rights, if you notice any such incident. Teaching them the right technique to distinguish, report and not to hide inappropriate happenings can make a change in the future of your child and our society too .

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