Rising Sex Addiction
New Delhi, June 2014
It was a landmark judgment and could change the way rape cases are handled by India’s legal fraternity. On April 4, 2014, a sessions court in Mumbai awarded India’s first death sentence for rape to three accused under the new Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. They had gangraped a photojournalist and a call-centre employee in the abandoned Shakti Mills in Mumbai.
The ruling notwithstanding, experts say that little has been done in terms of law and order to tackle cases of recidivism—the chronic tendency towards repetition of criminal or anti-social behavior. This is especially so in the case of rape cases, where lack of punishment is only emboldening the perpetrators of crime.
Of the 242 sex offenders in Tihar jail, three-fourths were repeat offenders. Many of the latter were not registered as sex offenders and police had no database on them.
Repeat sex offenders need to be monitored and counseled, and communities warned of them. In fact, Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan Society for Mental Health, Delhi, says: “Sexual assaults are the most complex of all crimes. But in India, the current thinking is the opposite. It is seen as the easiest crime.”
Hooked on rape
More often than not, recidivism acts are linked to increased sex addiction, a taboo subject in India, but where the numbers are growing. Mitra closely studied 242 sex offenders in Tihar Jail between 1999 and 2004. “Of these, three-fourths were repeat offenders and admitted they had raped earlier. Many were not registered as sex offenders and when finally caught, the police never interrogated them about this aspect,” he points out. “It’s important to have a personality database on them, as many have high psychopathic traits,” he avers.
However, their reformation is easier said than done. Experts say that pedophiles and violent sexual offenders have a lowerlikelihood of rehabilitation than those who commit non-violent sex offenses that don’t involve children. The Mumbai court even acknowledged this difficulty. It declared: “The Mumbai gang-rape accused have least respect for law. They don’t have potential for reformation as per facts of case.”
For most repeat offenders, rape is normal sex. Rem-ember the October 2003 rape of a Swiss diplomat at 10 pm in the parking lot of Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium? The man who assaulted her seemed coldly casual about the entire act. It’s likely that he was a repeat offender. Out of the 24,923 rape cases in 2012 that the National Crime Records Bureau has listed, it is a moot question as to how many are repeat crimes.
Some rape cases in the past were repeat offences and may not have occurred if remedial measures had been taken. On May 28, 2012, Sunil Suresh alias Pappu Salve of Shirdi was released from jail for “good behavior” after serving a term for the rape and murder of a minor in 2003. No one tracked him. Later that year, he allegedly kidnapped, raped and killed another nine-year-old girl. He was arrested. So ashamed was his wife Sarika that she reportedly said: “My husband should be punished as soon as possible. He should be hanged to death.” Similarly, in the 2010 Dhaula Kuan gang-rape case of a 30-year-old BPO employee, one of the two men held had been arrested earlier in another gang-rape case in 2007 from Faridabad. He was out on bail.
India falls way behind
Most experts feel nothing substantial is being done to track or counsel sex offenders in India, though one Delhi police chief was quoted as saying that his force had started keeping a tab on such people released from jail. Mitra asserts: “To say that India has woken up to this issue is not true. We can say that only when we develop institutions to tackle sexual crimes. Police units in many countries abroad have well-developed sexual offenses units. It takes 10 years to gain expertise to interrogate and establish sexual crimes. In India, such persons have little expertise in questioning the victim, leading to a nightmarish scenario.”
FBI has a website that lists the names and
location of known offenders. In addition,
there are residency restrictions on them;
violations can lead to 10 years in prison.
Arvind Verma, an ex-IPS officer in the department of criminal justice, Indiana University, US, in collaboration with his student Doug Evans, says that despite repetition of such heinous acts, no attempt has been made to develop a sex registry, to track released offenders and keep them under surveillance. Families, too, welcome such offenders back, thinking they will get refor-med. But what they need is psycho-logical evaluation.
A lesson could be learnt from a few other countries, where sex offenders are dealt with in a scientific manner. The Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US, for example, has a National Sex Offender Public Website with the latest information on the identity and location of known sex offenders from all 50 US states. While on probation, they’re subject to residency restrictions. They cannot live within a predetermined distance (typically 1,000 ft) of locations, which children frequent (parks, schools, pools, etc). They are barred from entering public libraries, driving buses or taxis and using social networking websites. Violating these restrictions can result in a felony conviction and as many as 10 years in prison.
England, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Ireland have sex offender registries, although the duration of registration is shorter than in the US and the information is only accessible to law enforcement authorities, explains Verma. This registration has to be done annually.
But it is South Korea which has one of the toughest laws in this regard. Under the legislation adopted by its parliament in 2010, chemical castration can be carried out on serial sex offenders convicted of crimes against minors. In 2012, some 20 MPs moved a bill for their physical castration.
Need to rein in offenders
In India, sections of the legal fraternity and activists are asking for restrictions to be imposed on sex offenders. However, tracking them is not all that easy. In the US too, says Verma, some sex offenders provide false addresses, fail to register and have no residence and cannot provide an address. “Once they are released from jail, treatment is often ineffective. It takes place in groups and includes individuals with different treatment needs that cannot be addressed in group therapy,” he informs. Instead, treatment programs should happen in prisons and be made mandatory. Prison officials can even offer incentives for participation. More importantly, adds Mitra, death sentence is never the answer. “The certainty of punishment is more important and nothing is being done in that area,” he reasons.
Interestingly, sex offences are the result of untreated sex addiction. (See Box). Dr Rajan B Bhonsle, honorary head of the Department of Sexual Medicine at KEM Hospital and Seth GS Medical College, Mumbai, says that in the last 5-7 years, there has been a rise in those seeking professional help for sex addiction. At any time, between 2-3 per cent of the sexually active population could be addicts, he says. He himself sees 5-7 new cases every month.
So when does a case become one of addiction? Bhonsle says: “A ‘compulsive preoccupation’ with any activity that can make the person ‘dysfunctional’ in the very primary areas of life could be classified as addiction. Sexual addiction, therefore, implies an unrelenting inability to control one’s sexual urges despite having complete knowledge of its adverse consequences.”
Unfortunately, India has a dearth of mental health experts to handle these cases. “No training is given even during postgraduate studies for psychiatrists, nor are psychologists counselled,” says Bhonsle. “Most mental health professionals have no idea how to help such cases,” he adds. When will India wake up to this serious issue?
A HIDDEN ILLNESS
Vikram (name changed), 29, always had sex on his mind. From the age of 11, he was stimulated by masturbation, porn magazines and adult movies. By 22, he had gravitated to prostitutes and would sometimes go to them twice a day. When he entered a job that entailed public dealings, he started picking up girls. “I could make out which woman was available, and till date, have had physical relations with about 50 of them. I got so obsessed that I couldn’t concentrate on my job. That’s when I realized I needed help, and fast,” he says.
He found a savior in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), a group akin to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It was started for the first time in India at a rehabilitation center of the Society for the Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) in south Delhi in April 2013. So far, 40 people from middle and lower income groups have attended various SAA meetings. These include students, shopkeepers and public servants. They spiritually heal each other of their obsession with sex, using the same Twelve Steps of healing that AA too has evolved. Many have found their lives changing for the better.
Vikram’s sexual trysts even saw him touching women inappropriately in buses and in the Metro. “I was chided by them, but thankfully, was never hauled up. It was uncontrollable, and I understood what rapists must sometimes be going through too. I started feeling like a freak of nature and abnormal.”
In desperation, he even went to psychiatrists, only to be told that masturbation was normal. Finally, he was lucky to read about SAA on the internet, and decided to go for its meetings. The first time he went, he was nervous. But when he reached the place, he was relieved to find 5-6 other men, suffering just like him. The guidance and love he found here, along with a sponsor who was in touch with him always, helped him recover.
His family has now found a girl for him and he will get engaged soon. “I will be faithful to her always. I intend going to SAA all my life,” he asserts.
Unfortunately, in India, sex addiction is a taboo subject and mired in hypocrisy. “Chastity is given a high premium, whereas the West is much more evolved than us,” says Anil Kumar, another SAA member. “Few know that sex addiction is deep-rooted in India. The sooner we treat this as an illness, the better. Otherwise, we will have more cases like Shakti Mills and Nirbhaya. I hope more SAA chapters can be started in other cities too,” he says.
Experts too are unanimous that the time has come to accept that sex affliction—also called paraphilia, meaning “beyond love”—exists in substantial numbers in India and it is time to deal with it.
Tilak Ram, 40, was a member of AA, and that’s how he came to know of SAA. His problem was peculiar. He couldn’t speak to women without getting nervous and shaky. “I would fantasize too much about sex, even during work. I hardly had any relations with my wife,” he says. But ever since he started going to SAA a month back, life has got better. “I fantasize less and want to get better.”
And that is the first step towards recovery—having the will to change. Unfortunately, says Anil, the Indian system is not geared to making people like him better. “There is little empathy from psychiatrists and they treat us coldly. Most of them are financially motivated,” he says. “The flag-bearers of good treatment are mainly women psycho-therapists who are more sensitive.”
Does he support the death penalty for repeat sex offenders. “There should definitely be a deterrent, otherwise things will spin out of control,” he says. Is anyone listening?
SAA can be contacted at:
The meetings take place at:
SPYM Centre building, 111/9 (Opposite CNG station & opposite Sector B4 Vasant Kunj, Gate No 2), New Delhi