New Delhi, Dec. 18: A combination of individual personality traits and socio-cultural factors may explain the actions of the perpetrators of the brutal rape and assault of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi on Sunday, forensic psychologists say.
But they assert that irrespective of the socio-cultural factors that might have contributed to tendencies towards sexual violence, each perpetrator would have had to take a decision to participate and thus would share the responsibility.
Delhi police have said six perpetrators appear to have been involved in the rape in a moving bus on Sunday night. Doctors say the victim, now battling for life in intensive care in a government hospital, has suffered severe injuries in her uterus and intestine.
Forensic researchers say her life-threatening injuries fit patterns of violence observed in multiple-perpetrator rape (MPR) cases. Psychologists in the UK who have studied global trends in MPR for several years say research suggests that rapes by multiple perpetrators are likely to be more violent and involve more serious sexual assault than those committed by lone perpetrators.
“We suspect that the feeling of anonymity within a group and peer pressure result in greater violence in such offences,” said Jessica Woodhams, a senior forensic psychologist at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
Research by Woodhams and her colleagues has shown that in most MPR cases, a person who wields greater influence in the perpetrators’ group may be identified. Typically it is this person who plans the offence, chooses the victim, and is the first to assault the victim.
But, Woodhams told The Telegraph, even when leaders can be identified, they should not attract more blame than their followers, as it is the followers’ actions that also allow the leaders to take on their roles.
“Family background, upbringing, and peer influence have all been implicated as factors that contribute to criminal behaviour and sexual violence,” said Miranda Horvath, professor of forensic and legal medicine at Middlesex University in the UK.
Such factors haven’t yet been the subject of implicit study in MPR cases, but this is currently under investigation, she said. “We suspect that they will be similarly implicated (in MPR),” Horvath said.
Clinical psychologists say gender-based violence against women is a global phenomenon, but its incidence is likely to be higher in cultures where women are not viewed as equal to men.
“This leads to gender bias, gender discrimination, and victimisation,” said L.N. Suman, a senior clinical psychologist specialising in adult psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore.
“Cultures that are patriarchal tend to treat women as mere objects that exist to fulfil men’s needs,” Suman told The Telegraph. “This leads to attitudes and beliefs that are negative against women and put them at risk of exploitation and violence.”
Researchers say efforts to curb sexual violence, including the incidence of MPR, would need to involve steps to tackle societal and cultural factors without which other measures would have little impact.
“It’s the boys’ fathers, uncles, grandfathers and other male elders in the family and society who have to teach boys to respect women and treat girls as equals,” Suman said. “Such elders must themselves be healthy role models for youngsters.”Woodhams and Horvath, who have jointly coauthored a textbook on MPR for students of forensic psychology — due in February 2013 — say MPR can occur in almost any community, contrary to suggestions in the past that perpetrators belong to specific sections of society.
Rachel Jewkes, director of the Medical Research Council’s gender and health unit in South Africa, for instance, has shown that contrary to the widespread notions that it is poor and marginalised men who commit MPR, the men who commit MPR have higher earnings and come from more privileged backgrounds.