Broaden definition of rape, demand lawyers, activists

Lawyers and activists say sexual assault by a foreign object and digital rape without the woman`s consent should also be brought under Section 375 which defines rape.

New Delhi: The 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist who was gang-raped on December 16 suffered grievous internal injuries due to sexual assault with an iron rod that finally led to her death. Lawyers and activists are demanding that the legal definition of rape be broadened to include digital rape and sexual assault by a foreign object.

Lawyers and activists say sexual assault by a foreign object and digital rape - inserting a finger - without the woman`s consent should also be brought under Section 375 which defines rape. The imprisonment can range from seven years to life.

"We have been demanding for the last two decades that the definition of rape be expanded and sexual assault by a foreign object be included under rape," lawyer Vrinda Grover told a news agency.

"The violation of my body will be equally horrific for me even if it involves a foreign object and not rape," she added.

People who sexually assault a woman with a foreign object or finger often get away with a mild punishment - as in a court, rape is strictly related to penile penetration.

"If a man sexually assaults a woman but does not rape her, and there is no internal injury, he would be charged under Section 354, which is a bailable offence, and the maximum punishment is of two years," lawyer HS Phoolka told a news agency.

Experts say society too needs to change its mindset and accept the fact that any kind of sexual violence against woman is rape.

"Rape is an exercise of power. one has to understand the psych of a rapist.. He wants to control and dominate the woman," said Grover, adding it was "unfortunate" that only penovaginal intercourse is considered rape.

"Any penetration is rape," she emphasised.

Her views were corroborated by Rebecca John, who said that quick action was required in the matter.

"Rape is considered a heinous crime and attracts stringent punishment. This fear has to be in the minds of those who think that they can get away with sexually assaulting a woman with some foreign object," John told a news agency.

According to Grover, the answer to the problem could be the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 04, 2012, and seeks to criminalise penetration of a person`s vagina, anus, urethra or mouth with any part of the body or an object for a sexual purpose without the consent of the person.

However, the fact that the bill is gender neutral, defeats the purpose, say activists.

"It is very rare that a woman rapes a man. So, making it gender neutral will allow the men to misuse it," she added.

Everything said and done, the low conviction rates when it comes to rape cases will continue to remain a problem till the time proper investigation, fast track courts and witness protection are put in place.

"We need thorough investigation by the police and a witness protection programme to protect a witness, which would rule out the possibility of him/her turning hostile," said lawyer HS Phoolka, adding that creating a "conducive atmosphere" in a rape trial is a must.

Data released by the Home Ministry says 2,649 rape cases were reported in the last five years in Delhi while only 190 people were convicted. Similarly, 3,045 cases of molestation were reported with only 43 convictions.

In another case, an 80-year-old destitute woman was sexually assaulted with a wooden stick by a 19-year-old boy in west Delhi in May, 2011.