Sexual Violence Against Women In India

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Sexual violence against women in India is very common and has recently been explored much more within the media and literatures. A rape case that sparked the nation was the Nirbhaya Rape Case in 2012 that involved the vicious gang rape of a university student named Jyoti Singh on a moving bus by six male passengers. As a result of the ‘beating and torment’ which caused physical and mental damage, she succumbed to her injuries two weeks later. This case is a prime example of sexual violence against women and empowered many to stand up and voice their concerns in regard to the issue. In general, women in India have been suffering in silence for years as a result of many factors, including social stigma and discrimination, damaging reputation, lack of family support and the fear of not getting justice.

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This literature will discuss the patriarchal system of gender roles and the taboo about sex as the two root causes of sexual violence, the psychological consequences of sexual violence on women in terms of physical and mental health, and the need to include Witness and Victim Protection Acts and marital rape into the legislation to prevent sexual violence against women in India and the need to adopt prolonged exposure (PE) into mental health centres in order to reduce mental health problems within women.

Patriarchal system of gender roles

Patriarchal norms of gender roles is one root cause of sexual violence. Patriarchy is defined as male-dominance and power where men are able to control women’s lives, thus making them dependent and dis-empowered. India continues to endorse this cultural belief of patriarchy because it has been passed down from generations by family, peers, teachers and the media in which women are accustomed to this lifestyle and accept that sexual violence is normal. In addition, most fathers in India don’t want a girl to be born because they are seen as vulnerable and a liability in terms of dowry when married off. A girl is usually raised with these gender differences all her life, including cooking and cleaning, no education and being married off at a young age. This also raises concerns about gender inequality as men are seen more superior than women since they are able to sexual harass a women through statements about their clothes, whistle-blowing, physically touching and raping just because they are mentally and physically stronger and, witnesses and victims fear the consequences. This shows that gender equality is desperately needed in India and the belief of patriarchy should be eliminated because it undermines the rights of women and encourages stereotypes that can cause physical, mental and psychological harm. Dalit women in India are an example of women who experience sexual violence and oppression on a daily basis by upper-caste men in their own community, as well as employers and police. These groups of women are ranked at the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of their class and caste and are usually poor, vulnerable, powerless, discriminated and lack access to opportunities and essential services such as healthcare and education. As a result of these conditions, Dalit women are easy targets for sexual violence because they aren’t able to voice their concerns and fight back because they don’t have money or any type of support.

The Taboo About Sex

This taboo about sex and reproduction is a forbidden topic in India which is another root cause of sexual violence against women. Social norms in India points to the fact that premarital sex is wrong and goes against religious and cultural beliefs. The topic of sex is not openly discussed within family members because they find it ‘inappropriate’ and ‘embarrassing’ and mothers didn’t want their children to be exposed to information involving sex and sexuality (Nieder et al., 2019). Furthermore, schools in India are hesitant to make sex education as part of their school curriculum because of this taboo about sex. As adolescents aren’t able to get any information or education about this topic, they find other sources such as peers or the media that can influence them. For example, when Bollywood movies enact the activity of eve-teasing or any type of harassment by men in order to get the women’s attention – this is seen as a sign of love and is not deemed as a crime and influences the men watching the movie to do the same which is the result of unrealistic expectations that movies promote. The misinformation and lack of awareness about sex and sexuality can increase sexual violence against women. Therefore, it is important to include sex education as part of the school curriculum in India because it can increase men’s knowledge and improve their attitudes and behavior around the topic of sex and respect women.

Psychological Consequences on Survivors

Sexual violence against women can have both physical and mental psychological consequences. Some survivors suffer from short term effects such as fear, anxiety, helplessness and guilt, whereas others can have long term effects including strained relationships with family and partners, drug/alcohol addiction and insomnia or eating disorders. Rai & Rai (2019) conducted a qualitative study to describe and explore the personal experiences of women who have been sexually assaulted in India. They suggest that when a ‘motivated offender’ sees a ‘vulnerable victim’ then sexual violence will likely happen. After sexual violence occurs, offenders leave the scene without any guilt and victims are seen suffering from short- and long-term psychological consequences. In the study, some women had post-traumatic disorders (PTSD) such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and had suicidal thoughts as a result of facing sexual violence on a regular basis and were continuously blamed for being in a vulnerable position which is very common for family members to say to their daughters in India. One respondent shared her experience saying, “I cannot forget anything, my torture, that boy’s torture, my family’s torture. I am sick. I cannot sleep in the bed, can’t laugh. And can’t wish to go anywhere. I have lost confidence completely” (Rai & Rai, 2019). This shows that victims of sexual violence go through so much both physically and mentally and can’t seem to talk to anyone about their problems because they are blamed for what happened to them. Some physical consequences of sexual violence includes pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). This can be very injurious to one’s health because pregnancy can lead to health problems in terms of aborting the baby, and STDs such as HIV can be fatal and may likely cause death if not treated right away. In India, many women don’t have access to mental health services in order to help reduce the suffering which needs to change.

Evidence-Based Suggestions

A law-based suggestion that India should include would be Witness and Victim Protection Acts and marital rape into their legislation. Witnesses and victims may not want to complain to authorities as a result of fear of not being protected by offenders who have great influence and power. For example, a 16 year-old girl and her parents were beaten up and burned alive in India simply because her parents made the offenders do 100 sit-ups and pay a certain amount of money as punishment (Inoue, 2020). Furthermore, Indian law believes that marital rape within a marriage is not a crime because there are certain factors that women need to consider, including divorce, customs and values, religious beliefs, level of education and the significance of marriage in India. The fact that sexual violence such as rape is not a crime within a marriage increases male-dominance in which men can control their wives in any way and they will simply accept their situation. Thus, Witness and Victim Protection Acts and marital rape must be included within Indian law because it can allow women to speak up and take action without feeling scared of the consequences to come after reporting sexual violence.

After experiencing sexual violence, many women tend to suffer from physical, psychological and mental disorders. Bragesjo et al. (2020) found that prolonged exposure (repeated exposure to the memory, situation, persons and place) would be an effective method to reduce PTSD of rape victims early on. The treatment entailed prolonged exposure sessions with victims 72 hours after the incident and using techniques such as recording the voices of the victims’ experiences, allowing them to hear back on it in order to decrease arousal symptoms. This psychological intervention was effective in terms of reducing the development of early symptoms. Thus, mental health centres in India should adopt prolonged exposure as a successful tool to prevent the occurrence of mental health problems within women who have experienced sexual violence.


As expressed, sexual violence against women in India shouldn’t be a normal issue. Patriarchy and the taboo of sex should be explored in terms of re-conceptualizing gender roles and educating women and men about sex and reproduction. Sexual violence leaves a huge and devastating impact on women, both physically and mentally and some usually don’t have access to mental health services as a result of lack of support and money. Much more needs to be done in terms of introducing new laws such as Witness and Victim Protection Acts and marital rape into the legislations and the impact of psychological interventions that can play a huge role in preventing sexual violence and early symptoms of mental health problems. India must address that sexual violence against women is a crime no matter what context and situation it occurs.


  • Bragesjo, M., Larsson, K., Nordlund, L., Anderbro, T., Anderson, E., & Moller, A. (2020). Early Psychological Intervention After Rape: A Feasibility Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.
  • Harbishettar, V., & Math, B. S. (2014). Violence against women in India: Comprehensive care for survivors. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 140(2), 157-159. PMCID: PMC4216486
  • Inoue, S. (2020). The State of Gender-Based Sexual Violence Against Women in India: Current State and Future Directions. South Asian Journal of Law, Policy, and Social Research, 1(1), 1-16.
  • Nieder, C., Muck, C., & Kartner, J. (2019). Sexual Violence Against Women in India: Daily Life and Coping Strategies of Young Women in Delhi. Journal of Violence Against Women, 25(14), 1717-1738. DOI: 10.1177/1077801218824056
  • Rana, S. (2020). Visualizing the Semiotics of Protest: The ‘Nirbhaya’ Rape Case. Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 27(1), 141-153. https://doi: 10.1177/097152519891482
  • Rai, R., & Rai, K. A. (2019). Sexual violence and poor mental health of women: An exploratory study of Uttar Pradesh, India. Clinical Epidemiology and Global Health 8 (1), 194-198.
  • Rao, N. (2015). Marriage, Violence, and Choice: Understanding Dalit Women’s Agency in Rural Tamil Nadu. Gender & Society, 29(3), 410–433.
16 August 2021

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