In many cases the intention of the immediate party or parties involved in making the rape videos, is not to make money, but to threaten and humiliate. 

New Delhi: The video is grainy, of low quality and clearly shot on a mobile phone. All the five men are directly looking into the camera and smiling. There is one woman in the video surrounded by these men. She calls them bhaiya (brother), and pleads with them to let her go. She says if they don’t stop, there’ll be no option left for her except to commit suicide. One of them laughs, and says so be it”. Two men hold her legs tight and another gags her mouth, the fourth starts raping her and the fifth films the act. The woman’s voice is not heard again. For the rest of the clip, that lasts for more than eight minutes, the men take turns raping her.

This rape video was making the rounds on the messaging service WhatsApp and was uploaded on Youtube in February last year by women’s rights activist Sunitha Krishnan, as part of her #ShameTheRapistCampaign, aimed at showing the faces of the rapists and helping viewers identify them. As the police failed to make any progress, she moved the Supreme Court last February. Following her petition, the apex court ordered a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Arrests were made in the case, but according to Krishnan she continues to receive such videos.

A 4 August report in The Times of India newspaper said that in shops across Uttar Pradesh, rape videos are being sold in hundreds every day and depending on the exclusivity” of the clips, which are 30 seconds to even 5 minutes long, they are priced anywhere from Rs.50 to Rs.150. As sick as it may sound, it is not the first time the word rape video has been used. As deputy inspector general of police, Lucknow, R K S Rathore said, It was five to six years back when we first started hearing about rape videos. It is alarming that youth even in rural areas have such perverted tendencies.”

In 2012, a minor Dalit girl in Haryana’s Hisar district was gang-raped by eight boys belonging to an upper caste. The boys also shot a video of the rape and circulated it in the village. The girl’s father, after seeing the video, committed suicide.

The stigma around rape is such that rape survivors and their families prefer hiding the crime instead of reporting it the police — a reason why most sexual assaults go unreported in India.

We need to place the rape videos in the socio-cultural context. This is not a rare, urban or rural phenomenon. The problem is that sexual violence is not considered sexual violence in India, but instead it is thought of as a part of sexual intimacy,” says Vidya Reddy, executive director, TULIR, Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, in Chennai.

Somehow, people get turned on by violence. It seems to have become a part of the Indian psyche,” she adds. In last two years, I have observed two trends: One is increase in the incidents of sexual assault by young people. Second is the increased use of technology in sexual violence cases. Most of the cases we get, involving young sex offenders, involve filming of the act. It could be for blackmail, gratification — often not just for self, but to be one-up within the peer group.”

In such cases, it’s not just non-consensual sex, but also non-consensual distribution of the act. In December, last year, Supreme Court issued a notice to the ministry of information and technology to ensure that such clips do not get circulated. However, the industry is still booming, with sales happening under the counter”.

Just a cursory Google with rape videos as a search text, shows cases from Telangana, Muzzafarnagar, Odisha, Meerut, Bangalore. The videos mostly don’t appear immediately after the crime.

When the intention is just to threaten a victim, the videos are circulated within the village or community of the woman, ensuring people who know her, get to see it. But when it is for money, it is sold in different states or directly on websites.

What is common is that the process is systematic. The victim is identified, she is followed for some days to ensure when she will be alone. The friends are called right on time. They choose a place in advance. The plan to shoot is also done in advance. In some videos, these men also mention how the next video that will come up, will be more professional — which makes the video more saleable,” says an activist who has closely worked on such cases at the investigating level, and does not want to be identified by name.

And in many cases, the activist says, the intention of the immediate party or parties involved, is not to make money, but to threaten and humiliate. The business side of it comes later.

This (rape videos) is a trend of commoditization of suffering. This is part of the commodity culture, where everything has a price tag. Though it is an offence, who bothers? The prosecution price is too low compared to the profit you make,” says B B Pande, retired professor of criminal law and criminology at the Delhi University.

For the rape and the circulation of the video, an accused can be booked under sections 323 (criminal intimidation), 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with intent to outrage her modesty) 376 D (gang rape) of IPC, 78 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (in case of the victim being a minor) and section 67 and section 67 A, of the Information Technology Act.

Krishnan says, It is an old business. It is in fact a part of the porn industry…it is a genre, just like violent sex is. There is a consumer for it, hence it is happening. It’s just that recently, these videos are used to threaten victims.”

The 2015 Google Trends data, as published by The Times of India, in October, shows that six of the top 10 cities in the world keying in porn’ on the search engine are in India. More importantly, since 2008, Rape porn’ was found to be a widely searched term in Kolkata, Howrah, New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Pune, accounting for the highest use of these keywords. Unnao, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, has most searches for child sex’.

Quite a large section of people, unfortunately, find it very exciting. Sexual content with violence sells very well. These are people who are saturated with normal porn videos. Both in terms of personality profiles and perversity, these people are very distinct,” says Rajat Mitra, a clinical psychologist, and the director of the Swanchetan Society for Mental Health, a non-governmental organization.

According to a study conducted across 10 Chennai colleges by the NGO Rescue, as published by DNA in September last year, about 70% of the students revealed that they watched four hours of porn a week and this included rape and child porn.

Rescue’s CEO Abhishek Clifford says the NGO is planning to file a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in October 2017, after the all-India survey is completed, to seek a ban on all teen and violent pornography videos, including rape videos.

A shopkeeper at Agra’s market, as quoted by the 4 August Times of India story, said, Porn is passé. These real life crimes are the rage. Dealers will download videos directly into your smart phone or put them in your pen drive.”

Police officers are quoted as saying how it would be close to impossible to control the phenomenon.

Anja Kovacs, who directs The Internet Democracy Project, an initiative which works towards an Internet that supports freedom of expression, democracy and social justice, says: This is a crime of rape and then it’s a crime of circulating such material. It is a crime upon crime.

And they are saying how can they stop this? One would imagine with the videos, it would be easier for the police to capture the rapists.”

That porn is sold in shady markets in Delhi and neighbouring areas almost like a phone recharge is already known. The fact that even porn websites have rape porn as a category, is also known by now. But the real challenge is now for the government to look for ways to track the circulation of such content across all such platforms.

Originally published in LiveMint.