Essay on Intra-familial sexual violence
Just as cases of beating by husband or in-laws are rarely reported to the police, cases of sexual attacks by family members like brother-in-law, father-in-law, and sometimes even by father are also never brought to the notice of the law-enforcement agencies.
A study conducted in 1993 in Jaipur by Mukesh Ahuja Widows: Role Adjustment and Violence (1996) on widows reveals that more than 10 per cent widows (out of 193 widows studied) were victims of sexual abuse. We read of cases in which sisters-in-law are seduced by their brothers-in-law or daughters-in-law are sexually assaulted by their fathers-in-law.
The women in these cases are silenced either by threats or promises. The ‘assaulter’ capitalises on being ‘special’ and leaves the victim with the heavy price of guilt. Following Mukesh Ahuja’s study, it may be pointed out that:
(1) A high proportion of women who become victims of sexual attack by the family members are those who are economically dependent on others.
(2) There is rarely an application of physical force or threat of bodily harm. More often, the women are psychologically enticed by affection for and dependence upon the assaulters.
(3) In a large number of cases, the attempt at seduction and molestation is not repeated over a period of time. It is only in a very few cases that the attempt is repeated for a period ranging from weeks to months and in rare cases two years.
(4) The cases of sexual attacks are found more in low and lower-middle classes with illiterate or less educated women. This, however, does not mean that cases of upper class women being molested by their close family members never occur; only their number is very small.
(5) The attackers are generally married, indicating that the object of sexual attack is purely biological pleasure and not intention of marriage.
(6) Victims and attackers’ age distribution is not always homogeneous (young and early middle-aged), i.e., there does not appear to be a positive correlation between the victim’s age and the attacker’s age.
Three factors may be identified as important in this context: (i) personality traits of both victims and victimisers (victim’s feeling of helplessness, inadequacy, dependence, etc. and victimiser’s traits of dominance, and his feeling that he is not accountable to anybody); (ii) family structure and family environment; and (iii) situational factors like isolation, etc.
These factors are to be taken together rather than in isolation, i.e., sexual attacks within the family should be seen as occurring in a context consisting of family living patterns and work situation that offer an opportunity for such behaviour.