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America – a Rape Hub

A sole minute is the interval between which two rapes take place in the United States of America which adds up to 1440 rapes a day. One in five women in America gets violated in their lifetime. The recent gang rape case in New Delhi on the evening of 16th of December, 2012, has given rise to much criticism regarding women’s security in India. But the USA is no exception. You can take your pick from the New Orleans case in April, 2012 where 4 men violated a 15 year old, the Steubenville High School, Ohio case, where a 16 year old was drugged unconscious and violated by members of the school football team, the California case where a 16 year old was gang–raped and the Texas case where an 11–year–old was sexually tortured by 20 men.

Just like the Delhi rape case took place on a moving bus, vehicle–rape cases are rampant in  the USA too. A developmentally disabled woman was violated in a moving bus in Los Angeles in November, 2012. A 16–year–old autistic girl was violated in a train in Oakland, California. A group of women were gang raped in a moving bus in Mexico City.

Besides women, men too are violated in America; however, there is a huge difference in the percentage of the two. While 91% of the victims are women, only 9% are men.

The Department of Justice in the USA categorizes rape statistics by race i.e. between black and white. Alcohol and drugs are a common part in most of the rape cases in America. In 47% rape cases, both the rapist and the raped are found to be drunk. In 17%, only the rapist is drunk while in 7% cases, only the victims are drunk. And in 29%, neither the victim nor the offender is drunk.

About 2/3rd of the sexual assault cases take place in a house. The rapist’s house is the crime site in about 30.9% cases, the victim’s house is the crime site in about 26.6% cases and a house is shared by both the victim and the offender in about 10.1% cases. Rapes have happened inside vehicles in 7.2% cases; again, 7.2% cases took place in parties, 3.6% in open areas and 2.2% in pubs and bars.

The United States Federal Law defines rape as a person of any age being engaged in sex by force, by threatening murder, physical harm or abduction, causing physical harm, making a person unconscious by intoxicating or drugging a person.

This definition was, however, revised by the FBI in 2012. It defined rape as the “carnal knowledge” of a woman by force and against her consent. Rape now includes even slightest penetration of the vagina or the anus with any body part or object as well as forced oral penetration by another person’s reproductive organ.

The definition was updated after 1927 as the former one was found to be outdated. The revised definition also states that the rapist and the victim can belong to any gender because some recent instances of the crime have also found to have been committed on men by men. Raping with objects has also been considered as it is as painful and traumatic as vaginal or anal penetration. FBI is hoping that rape cases will now be more precisely reported in the United States of America.

Rape is very much a punishable offence in America. Its definition differs from one state to another. However, one condition that is considered as rape in all states is that of a woman subjected to sexual abuse against her consent. Recently, several American states passed revised violation laws which included some nonconsensual rape incidents without the need of using force as well as the violation of one’s spouse. Almost all the states in America call sexual intercourse with a child of fourteen to eighteen years of age or below ‘statutory rape’ even if it is done with the child’s consent. Sex with someone who is not legally capable of giving consent to the act is also considered to be rape. Such incapable individuals include someone who is mentally challenged, drugged or intoxicated.

Rape shield laws in America are meant to protect the women from the psychological trauma that they go though on the witness stand on being questioned about their sexual history. The fear of this humiliation has discouraged several women to report the crime committed against them. According to Rule 412 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, enacted by the United States Congress, it is inadmissible to prove that a rape victim has been sexually active and has sexual predisposition during a criminal or civil proceeding involving sexual abuse.

Some states in America make it necessary to report rape within a certain period of time.  The state laws are usually different regarding the application of “fresh complaint” doctrine. When a complaint is made promptly and voluntarily after the crime, it is called “fresh complaint”.  Considering the trauma that a person experiences after rape, the “fresh complaint” rule is no more applicable.  Fresh complaint was preferred earlier because it was thought that delayed rape complaints were unreliable.

State Statute has defined violation in three degrees:

1. First degree violation includes sex with someone by force or with someone who is not capable to give consent for being physically helpless or is less than twelve years of age.

2. Second degree violation consists of anyone who is 18 year old or older violating someone less than 14 years of age or having sex with someone who is mentally unsound.

3. Third degree violation is committed against someone who is not mentally sound or the rapist, who is 21 or older, violates someone less than 16 years of age or if he or she has sex with someone less than 18 years of age for whom the rapist provides a foster home.

American laws make sure that the offenders do not go without punishment, in case the accused is proved guilty. Under Federal law, the punishment for violation ranges from a fine to lifetime imprisonment. It is the severity of the violence used in committing the crime, the victim’s age and the involvement of intoxicants and drugs that determine the punishment. If the offender is found to have repeated his crime, the sentence is doubled.

Survey shows that the USA ranks much higher than India, as far as rape count is concerned. But the higher counts of FIRs and strict rape laws tackle the problem of sexual assault more competently than in India. Indian women need to be encouraged to come forward for reporting sexual abuse and fast–track courts need to be set up so that such cases are dealt with in a faster manner and the rapists gets their deserved punishment.

Dr Athiqul H Laskar

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