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A man who imposes sexual activity on a woman without any indication that she is attracted to him, in the face of blunt refusals or knowing that she definitely does not like him, is a rapist. But without this explicit clarity, there are a lot of grey areas where men and women can communicate very differently and a lack of consent is not very clear. It isn't as simple as saying a no is a no.

While we are willing to accept a victim coming in with an accusation of rape much after an incident she reluctantly consented to in has happened, we are less tolerant about the ability of the man who must judge in the heat of the moment to determine whether the refusal is something that will resolve with persuasion or violate. And the sensitivity of men differs wildly, much of it determined by individual life experiences - we do little to help men learn.

It is an age old debate - how much no is no when it comes to sex. There is a side that thinks all "No" is a dead end. There is another that pretty much refuses to recognize any form of "No" as being an actual refusal. Neither are practical. As always, the more adamant force is applied to a process, the less there is sensitivity to nuance. It isn't enough to simply dump responsibility for changing a status quo on one side of a difference. Particularly when that side is less vulnerable to the problem to begin with.

There are many shades of "No". To me, for someone to be called a "rapist" an important condition is that the alleged rapist must know that the other person does not want them - particularly in cases where consent has been implied till that point.

Consent is a grey area traditionally

Asking for anything is culturally stigmatized. Someone asks you if you want tea, you are conditioned to refuse. This is a relatively minor thing. But you are taught that politeness means you don't outright accept something you desire. The more intimate and high stakes your desire, the closer you play your cards to your chest.

For many "traditional" people, by the time a relationship is ready for sex, the moment for consent has long passed, because any physical touch already is consent in a society not given to casual physical touch between genders.

When a woman says No, she doesn't always mean it

Now consider the conditioning women go through all their lives, where a woman who is eager for sex is seen as someone less respectable. There are few women or even men who would outright agree to sex, even while they are giving all kinds of green signals otherwise. Remaining available, participating in increasing contact, "accidental" contact, remaining accessible for sexual contact - and even pretending to be surprised if it happens, till the elephant of increasingly intimate contact cannot be looked around - are all normal happenings in courtship.

People pretend accidental contact that they can back off from if the other person doesn't seem receptive rather than outright ask for sex. Rather than come across as forward or risk a refusal, they simply initiate and see where it goes. Because here is the thing, we also see asking for sex as inappropriate if it gets refused. Men become creeps, women become sluts.

And this is culturally accepted and immortalized. "Jaane do na. Paas aao na" is a sexy song that gave many men sleepless nights when the film Sagar released.

The whole duet is spent with Rishi Kapoor asking Dimple Kapadia to come closer and her refusing all the way. She refuses. Says don't touch me. I can't do these things, etc. It is actually a romantic song where both of them are attracted and in fact gave men an education on what an aroused woman looks like before the age of the internet! The film Sagar would be vastly different if Dimple Kapadia later realized Rishi Kapoor was a lousy lover and remembered that she'd been second thoughts all through and in fact, refusing. It would take an exceptionally sex-illiterate person to conclude a lack of consent from that song. And if Rishi Kapoor took those refusals at face value and didn't proceed, that would be one hot, frustrated woman there and Kamal Haasan would be one happy man. Never really understood what she saw in Rishi Kapoor with super sexy Kamal Haasan there for her.

This song is actually quite realistic among the masses, where there is a lot of intimacy that goes on under the cover of normalcy or even expressed disinterest without actual prevention till the relationship reaches a point of inevitability. It is vulnerability in a judgmental world. It is hard to talk about budding feelings in the bright light of day. Not many can do it. I doubt if even among the feminists there would be very many who can claim to have explicitly spoken of attraction and a desire to initiate a sexual relationship before intimacy.

Is it wrong? Only if you think communication is strictly verbal. But there are fifty kinds of non-verbal signals that are freely given. Spending more time exclusively with someone, standing closer to them than others, casual affectionate physical touch not shared with others... it all communicates consent in a language beyond words and paves the way for more.

But there are far more mundane reasons for blurred consent. Refusals that have nothing to do with sexual willingness, but are related to other factors - for example, tired - which often change with seduction. Or a risk of discovery - which can change a refusal into flat out excitement for some, depending on how aroused they are. They can also be deeply distressing, even with a regular and beloved partner if a woman does not find the risk of discovery exciting.

Whether to persuade and get a phenomenally hot sexual experience or to respect an area of discomfort? This needs education on sensitivity and communication that cannot be plastered over with "no is no".

Traditional and biological sexual factors add confusion

Then there is a further complication. Sexually, men often enjoy the "chase" and women often enjoy being overruled on consent - when they feel safe. That men enjoy the chase shouldn't be that hard to infer from the very troublesome manifestation of sexual harassment. It is predatory behavior. The harassment is where women are clearly not on the same page - because women do require to establish trust and a catcall or grope isn't exactly it. There are a few women who feel flattered by catcalls even if they would not admit it openly. The feeling of being publicly desirable. They often are also those who place high value on male approval overall. While they may not openly enjoy it, you can get that insight in indirect ways - for example when they speak of disparage women as someone who wouldn't turn heads or wouldn't be harassed or molested or raped because they aren't attractive, etc. Where they clearly see unsolicited approaches as a mark of desirability, even though respectability demands that they cannot be known to enjoy it.

I once knew a girl nicknamed Sexy in our friends circle and while she acted all protesting about a nickname that sounded like a sleazy catcall, she would be the one to tell people who didn't know what her nickname was!

There is also a fundamental difference in how men and women interpret intimate conversations that create misunderstandings. Men generally do not speak of intimate physical experiences with the ease women do. Just look at the number of open discussions about menstruation or female sexuality on social media and compare them with how many times you have seen men talk about their penises at all. Men reserve personal talk to extremely confidential relationships - if they talk about intimate issues at all. An intimate subject being discussed conveys extreme trust to men, while women happily talk about intimate subjects even on public forums.

Very often a woman's candid talk can imply an intimacy she does not mean to men, particularly men who are not very familiar with casual interaction with women and don't know that this is normal for women. Something I always advise inexperienced young women is to not share one on one conversations involving features of your/his body with men you aren't interested in. It doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to you. Of course, there will be individual exceptions, but the norm is broad enough to be useful insight.

A verbal refusal or protest can come from anywhere from an actual refusal to hesitation to commit to stating desire. And there can often be contradictory messages in behavior, with the non-verbal message often being the more accurate of the two.

Some women fantasize about being overpowered

One of the strongest endorsements of consent comes from BDSM, which allows for a safe word to call a halt to the sexual activity - ironically, often criticized for "cruelty". And the safe word actually can allow for erotic sexual play that involves refusing sex and the refusal being overruled if the safe word is not used. How could enslavement, pain being inflicted be desired? Obviously, the consent being explicitly moved to the safe word ensures that this isn't rape, but it definitely is rape fantasy if the play explores areas of consent being overruled.

Increase of women viewers of porn and a lot of outspokenness about porn and terms like feminist porn coming up have not led to any discernable change in standard porn content. So the increased number of women appear to be fine watching erotic content that is criticized from a feminist perspective for being disrespectful about women? For objectifying them, for not holding consent in higher esteem? Women too watch that and get off on it?

Actual research done in this area (led by a woman) shows startling results: 52% of the women had fantasies about forced sex by a man: 32% had fantasies about being raped by a man: 28% - forced oral sex by a man: 16% - forced anal sex: 24% - incapacitated: 17% - forced sex by a woman: 9% - raped by a woman: 9% - forced oral sex by a woman. Overall, 62% reported having had at least one of these fantasies.

Does a woman's response to a dominating man convey mixed messages? Is it possible that men either instinctively or from experience experiment with overruling consent as a part of sexual play? It certainly seems possible if one were to look at such data. There is plenty more research on rape fantasies, for the interested. No point derailing into all that. Particularly since fantasies are not consent for reality.

The man must be made aware of an unambiguous refusal

In my view, because of all these reasons, it is not enough to say "no" and pretend sexual interest did not happen, there is a need to ensure that the "No" is communicated. A man must be made aware of an unambiguous "no" and women must be educated about conveying it. Being willing to a point and then refusing, only to capitulate with some persuasion makes it very difficult to differentiate between a refusal that is momentary and overcome with persuasion and an actual refusal with further sex happening against the consent of the woman.

A common reason to capitulate is because the woman values the presence of the man in her life even though she doesn't want sex. She doesn't want him to turn to someone else. Sad though it may be, it is a hard choice, but a choice must be made with responsibility. Agreeing to sex but holding it against him is not ethical. It is also important to understand that once the genie of sex is out of the bottle, your relationship is not going to return to the comfort zone easily - if at all ever.

Not so hard to understand if men and women are BOTH people

Let us reverse the roles for a bit to make it easier to understand. If men seem more eager than women to seek sex, women can want sex for far longer than men, because biology. Women do pressurize no-longer-interested men into sex. Is a man who grumbles about it after being seduced into participating again a rape victim? Technically, yes. If we are talking of consent as a moment by moment thing where changing your mind on sexual interest is a right, a man who rolls over and falls asleep should be protected from the still horny woman.

In reality? It will be quite a few nights like this before a responsible lover learns to get his partner off first before racing for the finish line or the woman learns to insist on it. Without that pressure, he will never learn. In any case, a man can't be raped as per Indian law. He is this mythical creature who always wants sex, so there is no question of lack of consent - and countless relatively inexperienced partners of sexually active women will attest to the fact that they do get pushed beyond their comfort zone. If a woman is under social pressure of the male gender, the man's entire masculinity and existence as a man can be at stake in such moments. A man who can't "perform" on demand is a most embarrassing thing in terms of social conditioning.

A rather headstrong teenager slapped her lover awake when he fell asleep after climaxing while she was still horny and frustrated. Embarrassed at having fallen asleep and intimidated by her fury, he fumbled his way through that night and broke off with her the next morning, by which time she was horrified and embarrassed by her own behavior. "You can't force me" were his exact words, repeated over and over through the conversation.

She kept apologizing and begging him to forgive her. She had thought he had lost interest in her - as in he dumped her after sex. It was rape all the same - technically. A more humane term would be a learning experience for both of them. Neither of them were aware of crucial factors beyond their own experience. The girl didn't have an idea that men can need temporary time out after a climax. The man was not aware that women climax at all.

If a horny and clueless teenager can do this, an adult experienced woman can definitely pressure a man into "performing" beyond his endurance with a lot more expertise and knowing exactly how to do it. Not all men have the sexual resilience or skill to ensure that a woman also finds each sexual encounter satisfying. Till they learn, it can be extremely high pressure to deliver sex long after they have maxed out or more often than they are sexually able. One day it will make them better lovers. Or it may simply lead to a horrible sexual relationship they hopefully escape some day.

If we insist on reluctant agreements under pressure being up for evaluation as rape in hindsight, then we have to begin with the ethical stand that men too can be raped in this manner - are we willing to do that? Is it ethical to consider consent under pressure as rape only for women? Also, is it correct to blame a man for rape if there is consent under pressure even, unless there is an explicit threat or unfair pressure knowingly applied by the man? Can a man know all the factors that will run through a woman's mind before she agrees in order to know that the consent is not freely given?

There has to be some point where we have to take consent/participation at face value and it is the responsibility of each person in an adult interaction to make their peace with their choices. And to give consent with awareness of its implication and refuse it if not okay with it.

Saying NO and making it stick

Both men and women would be served better by widespread awareness of tools like safe words and emphatic "NOs" without mixed messages - where a refusal is a flat out refusal and no persuasion is welcome that leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation. This is important for both responsible adult communication as well as practical safety for women.

To say no, but continue other intimate touching, or remain accessible for further touch or escalate "I really like you, but..." type emotionally laden conversations, sends a mixed message that is very commonly interpreted as yes. If that is your intention, fantastic. I encourage you to attempt an eager "yes", because any responsible lover will wait for you to get there. If you are undecided, it is better to voice that and explicitly state a temporarily refusal or "find out as we go along" type consent so that the man knows to check for your comfort, than give mixed messages that can take the situation outside your comfort zone rapidly or to blindside with a refusal. This is the honest communication - stating your status clearly. Of course, if you've been yes till something turns you off, blindsiding cannot be helped.

The most important thing to educate people on is that they are not responsible for disappointing those interested in them gently at the cost of their own well being. If they are not interested in being intimate with someone, it is best to do a flat out NO. Alternative intimacy will neither satisfy an interested wo/man, nor will it convey a refusal. It will convey that you are interested in them, not yet enough for sex, but you're open to possibilities. Such possibilities will almost inevitably be explored, because such is the nature of horniness - it seeks a climax. Ironically, the chances of getting consensually laid in the future improve vastly in borderline situations if you can disengage and take care of your horny solo without imposing it on anyone before they are ready.

A person coerced into sex against his/her will has been wronged. But it does not follow that the wrong was deliberate unless that is also established. Sometimes bad judgment is just that. Sucks and wrong, but not a crime.

Nothing short of a climax satisfies a horny person. If that is not what you want, the best and kindest thing you can do for all concerned is to flat out refuse and stop all interaction. If you are not able to do this, you need to ask yourself what you are achieving by prolonging the risk.... and address it appropriately rather than slide into compliance. It is appropriate to be hostile instead of placatory when you want to push someone away. The fewer grey areas in such refusals, the fewer the mixed messages.

If there is structural or social power being exploited to take coerce someone, then the process of "NO" must also involve informing the structure of the exploitation of the power granted by it. Whether it is informing an organization about the inappropriate advance or a friend's circle about the camaraderie of a trusted group being misused to prey on someone. This vastly reduces the pressure on the target. It also allows for protective actions by others, like ensuring that the two are not left alone.

This needs to be a part of sex education.

apologies for the long read - it is a rough chapter from a book I'm writing. Was not able to shorten it gracefully.


Among the various objections raised to the AIB Roast that has got into trouble over profanity and hurting sentiments and such was the issue of people being offended by being joked about. Normally you'd tell such people to suck it up, but when combined with humor that is already targeted for being offensive, it becomes a sort of sentimental cocktail like Farida Jalal being embarrassed at the idea of a joke about someone jerking off to her or Anil Kapoor angry over his accent being ridiculed.

I do think All India Bakchod should have taken the consent of those they ridiculed beyond the scope of those present on the stage, at the same time, I imagine it is not so easy to know who would be offended and who would not.

As an endorsement of free speech, as well as a subtle reminder to comedians by merely existing, I'm proposing that people who are staunch supporters of free speech (or merely good sports) declare openly that they would not react adversely to being ridiculed or otherwise targeted in a manner that is not intended to cause them harm or threat.

I hereby state that I am never going to file a police complaint over being joked about. Even if I don't like the joke and rip you to shreds on Twitter. I am not famous outside Twitter, so it isn't particularly useful in terms of a personality you can joke about, but who knows when a ridiculable blogger comes in handy in these touchy times?

Please note that this consent does not extend to family members or anyone other than me - whom you still ought to ask independently (if I ever get that famous :p).

Also, I hope that more interesting people to ridicule get the hint and state their open consent to free speech - including offensive speech.

I would suggest that you add your name in the comments, if you're fine being ridiculed and will not seek legal recourse if it happens. If you aren't famous, describe yourself a bit 😀 If you are famous, that is really superb. Such people are in short supply, it seems.

If you write or post elsewhere, feel free to leave a link in the comments, with your name.

If lots of people are interested in stating such consent in the interest of upholding Free Speech in a country where it is already shaky (and such consent will go a long way in taking the "offensive" out of the crappy laws)... we could perhaps have a directory of sorts, where people ridiculing anyone could simply check if their targets are listed.

That said, this is more a "speaking up" move than procedure. People can and should still be able to ridicule anyone regardless of consent, but I imagine having consenting people for the worse jokes can take some of the post publishng worry out of the planning.

Normally this shouldn't be a worry, but India's laws are sort of fucked up and it is easy for pissed people to screw your happiness.

There are too many people speaking up because they are offended, and not enough people explicitly leading the right to ridicule from the other end of the stick. Maybe this will give more people an idea.

Can you take a joke? Can you take a terrible joke? Can you take an offensive joke? Can you respond to a joke you simply cannot take without resorting to silencing others - even about you?


Dear Mrs Dixit,

I have read your comments on the Delhi gangrape. I applaud your honesty in admitting failure, in admitting the dangerous condition of Delhi for women and your determination that there must be change. In a more cynical mood, I think that it is easy for you to make these admissions considering that you are not in charge of security. However, you are in charge of the city and the mindset thriving in it makes this your responsibility, This also doesn't let you off the hook for other comments in the past.

However, this letter is about the future. You have mentioned in an interview that you have the intention to not sit idle and wait for security to happen, but to initiate a social drive to create a transformation in society. This is one of the wisest things anyone has said on the subject so far. I agree that this is the correct approach, and as a keen people watcher with an interest in women's rights, I have suggestions for transformation, if applied with integrity.

Most of the things on the table will not work. The buses and pubs are topical measures. Unless you plan to install CCTV cameras in fields and school toilets and turn the whole city into a super surveillance prison, this can't really starve rapists of locations or methods. Even as prison it will fail. This will strip the rights of the common man, which are already pretty shredded and encroached; lead to overall unrest.

Rapists don't see themselves as criminals till the need for a cover up. What happens to criminals will not deter them. Plus prosecution is lethargic and cops not interested in filing cases they can avoid. Harsh punishment for rapists won't fix the problem. There is a danger in creating laws in a moment of fury. Our country has a penchant for slapping laws onto things that can't be fixed by laws. And this is without our notoriously flawed witch hunt investigations and propensity to frame people. Irreversible punishments may just lay the brickwork for future disasters.

There is a process to rape. A rapist has a certain kind of thinking that allows the use or abuse of women sexually. Such a person finds an opportunity and a reason to do it. Then there is the victim. There are cops. The investigation. Judicial process. The judgment itself. Each of these can be improved. Lots of potential here if someone is serious about rolling up sleeves and getting to work. Most important is everything coming before the rape, because that can actually prevent it.

The opportunity and reason part of it is near impossible to prevent (and is Shinde's job anyway). Other things like police response and all will definitely help, but like you said, you can't do much about that beyond insisting, which you must.

In a normal society, there is a non-verbal contract of obeying laws, paying taxes and other duties in return for enforcement of rights, facilities that support and enhance living, protection from harm, etc. India is in a precarious position. People are experiencing that while they obey laws and pay taxes, and so on, they are not safer, they are finding living more difficult from inflation, unemployment, insecurity, whatever. There is dissatisfaction and very little awareness of equality.  It is every person for himself, with the sexually repressed environment demonizing sex, lesser chances of marriages, etc. The primitive chauvinistic culture has little in terms of legal oversight (possibly the price of vote bank politics).

Too much permissibility of subjugation of women has made their condition precarious. To add to this is a reinforcement of impunity for further humiliation of women with public figures making rabidly anti-women statements. Witness Nirupam's questioning of Smriti Irani's character. This is pretty much what every street thug does as he sizes up your breasts to grope on a bus. Big breasts is loose character, dancing is loose character, revealing clothes is loose character, late night on bus is loose character. The predator needs to find a way to turn his victim into a "bad person" in order to punish her with his actions, or he has to face that he is a demon (which no one does - everyone thinks of themselves as good people). Which is how Smriti Irani dancing is a reflection of her character, but hey Sunil Dutt or Govinda danced way more than her for far more money. But there is no utility in questioning their character.

This is further compounded by the Savitri and Sexy syndrome, where some women are objects of evil, while others are objects of innocence. So it is highly unpredictable who is a potential attacker till too late. Who knows who has what kind of hang up? So you had students protesting the rape of a student showing bangles to the police - as if it is an insult to be a woman. They used foul language about you or Sonia Gandhi - both women. Needless to say going among them without security is highly inadvisable for either of you, while the other "innocent" girls may do so without fear (unless they break another stereotype). It is not possible to go around analyzing every man. Nor is it appropriate to treat all men as potential sexual predators - the traditional line taught to unmarried girls in the hopes of keeping them away from men. Usually fails and leads to heartbreak or marriage or great/lousy sex. Hormones are a compelling influence no amount of moral policing can trump.

The need of the hour is a carrot - stick approach that keeps enough people in line that the rest can be fixed in other ways.

The carrots are the goodies. Increased acceptance of sex, propagation of ideas of sex as a natural and healthy thing, education on contraceptives, de-shaming sex, education on the paramount importance of consent as a part of sex (this also needs more solidly plugged into the laws and constitution), acceptance of sexuality, acceptance of sex professionals, industry (not exploitation), films and toys, and more. The more you can end repression of sexuality and make it easy and acceptable (as natural), the less likely it is to burst out in unpredictable, uncontrollable and devastating ways. Please note that this doesn't mean lowering the age of marriage. Sex and marriage need to be differentiated.

The sticks are the taboos. Enforcing laws is the biggest one. Creating public opinion on the unacceptability of sex without consent. Punishing every instance of demeaning women without discrimination (more below) by public figures or in media. Preventing exploitation in marriage, trade, whatever. The idea is to make these taboos so strong, that you have to be a really filthy creature to even think these things. Think of how well the church has done making homosexuality unthinkable. The pope is still fighting tooth and nail for his right to devastate lives. For a good cause, it could work brilliantly. Really heavy duty bombardment and relentless public opinion mongering. Religious leaders could be roped in to whatever extent they feel able to follow the laws of India.

The idea is the creation of a social environment where the laws matter. Here, your leaders and public figures are important. Visible role models upholding law will create a virtue out of that, visible role models insulting women will encourage the public to do similar. What is good/bad, acceptable or not, even which laws to take seriously and which ones to bend is often understood by watching what others are doing, and the references lie in the public space.

About the punishing of demeaning of women, it is actually written that it should be so. Another law enforced to manipulate people, but not protect them. It must be enforced. The women's commissions should be hauled over coals for not protecting women to begin with and then, if they repent, should be tasked with filing legal cases for offending the modesty of a woman for every single instance of victim blaming, character judgments, insulting comments about women, etc. Such people should be punished in courts or if they settle out of courts, one of the conditions must be a public apology that should be well covered in media. If the people receive it well, they are off the hook, or the case should go on.

Every single instance. be it a politician, a police officer, a judge, a school principal, khap panchayat - whoever, whatever. Regardless of political loyalties. The women's commission must not have any members who belong to political organizations or are related to politicians. Any of them not fulfilling these conditions must be replaced. Women's commissions should also alert appropriate authorities in the case of anyone in a tax funded job, so that appropriate action may be taken. Good idea for this could be fining half the salary for 6 months to fund women's rights initiatives. On an aside, a good person to have on a woman's commission is a blogger called Indian Homemaker. A superb and sensible warrior of human rights with an impeccable sense of what is fair. With no affiliations (that I know of) to make her judgment suspect.

The censor board must be hauled over coals for allowing content that promotes women as inferior and encourages subjugation. All the soap operas showing bold women as evil must be forced to rewrite scripts to be compatible with the message of equality in our constitution. Films with super hit songs (and stories) promoting sexual harassment must be forced to run captions that the action demonstrated in the film is actually illegal as per Indian law. "Good" women characters must be forced to comply with health weight charts. An underweight model must not be promoted as a role model, particularly in stories showing women of normal or heavier weights as stupid. "Good" characters must not exhibit a virtue of suffering abuse silently. On the contrary, they must fight abuse - against themselves at least, compulsorily. Challenging status quo must not be the sign of a bad character. Any "item numbers" projecting women as enjoying being touched by a crowd of men must have the actresses giving independent interviews disclosing if they really enjoyed being touched or would like to experience such a thing in real life. These interviews must be appended to the film in all future releases. Shows to focus on various aspects of women's rights to raise awareness must be designed. Tax exemptions must be given to films/books/content that promote healthy attitudes toward women.

I think this is a good laundry list to start with. Particularly important is the point about punishing public role models of humiliating women. I congratulate you on your healthy attitude to the problem, and I think you need not find yourself helpless. It will not be so difficult to change society if the people planning the change know what they are doing. Particularly for someone with the tremendous resources and reach of the state on their side. We stand by you, and hope that you come up with a model that can be replicated countrywide.

I would be happy to hatch more ideas with any team you have, if you find these useful.

Wishing you the best,



Questioning the lack of age appropriate parenting and its impact on children as inadvertently sexually provocative behavior.

There is a kind of social, emotional abandonment of childhood itself, which I see as a growing phenomenon of our "modernity". Recently, I had argued on a group forum about the lack of really good children's films, and children's talent shows having children perform dances to very adult themes including emotions they are unlikely to have experienced in any way that does justice to the performance as art. Sexual attraction, betrayal, for example. A parent was very angry with me for calling this an example of neglect and said that her child LIKED and CHOSE to dance to those songs.

I beg to differ. Increasingly, busy parents have no time for childish things. Many will put on a cartoon on TV for kids to watch, but not sit with them to enjoy it. Many parents want to do intelligent things with children and ask them to play childish games with friends. Spending time together inherently has started requiring children to understand adult tastes to hold interest or be abandoned to their own devices. Choices influenced by these should not be seen as an interest in the content so much as an interest in holding the interest of loved adults.

Another way of looking at it is that sex repressed adults find unconscious enjoyment in sexual freedom being enacted publicly and freely. At the same time, their sexuality is so repressed, that they see nothing wrong with children dancing pelvic thrusts, because their own pelvic thrusts aren't sexual either, in their awareness.

A friend recently shared an outrageous situation. She said that the children being role modeled "sexy" all the time with few examples of self-respect or asserting personal boundaries, may have led many children to act in a seductive manner, which can give mixed messages to others - in the sense of implying consent.

She gave the example of her daughter's friend who was 11 years old, had not hit puberty and showed little sexual awareness, but wore, clingy, feminine clothes that were designed along the lines for more adult women in the sense of drawing attention to the body in a sexual manner - clothing many adult women would hesitate to wear too - she described strategic transparency, frills that would have framed a cleavage if she had one, but flopped meaninglessly on a flat chest, short skirts that flashed knickers all the time - while the girl herself was a tomboy and very friendly, but not necessarily in a sexual way - she was simply too young yet.

My friend said she constantly worried that a hormonal teenager or lecherous adult would read or choose to label the mixed messages wrong and lead to undesirable sexual consequences. The surprise is that the girl's mother, who wears salwar kameez and saris almost like a uniform is making these purchases for her daughter, saying that "she's a kid, let her enjoy now while she can wear exposing clothes". This is so warped on so many levels.... Freud would have a party with this. Many parents seem to live their desires of sexual freedoms through what they get their kids to do. Which, in my view is plain sick.

She is no prude, I am no prude, but I understood her to be saying that while there is nothing wrong about sexual attraction, children are rarely very self aware, and the friendly inputs from an adult can help them understand how they present themselves. It is a part of growing up. I agree with my friend that if the girl chose to wear clothes that flaunted sexuality, it was her choice, but if it was an unintended thing, then she was likely to be caught unaware by its impact on people and in either case, an adult ought to have been keeping a protective eye over her to ensure that her desire (if she chose) for freedom was not exploited. This, in my view is neglect on the part of a parent. The lack of that guiding into the world by showing meanings to things that may not have been noticed or intended. Children don't need to learn the hard way.

I call openly for sexual liberalization and acceptance of sexuality as a natural part of growth. However, what this girl's mother is doing isn't freedom, this is abandonment and possibly endangerment. When you set children free, as a responsible parent, your job multiplies exponentially, because the idea isn't to let them run wild and fall over cliffs, but for them to spread their wings safely with loving adults watching out for them, partnering them in their discovery of the world.

I brought this example up, because victimization of children gets spoken of a lot, but there is little talk about abdication of protective responsibilities of parents. We choose to ignore these things. This sexualization of children that is a social phenomenon, unless there is a rape, then we protest it. There is also little talk of the sexualization of children overall - for example, the mother may have purchased those clothes, but they are available in kids sizes in shops everywhere. Black net stockings for a girl to play in the garden? Gimme a break!


Replugging this old article with my views on the lack of recognition of distinctions between sex and crime in actions of governments and judiciary in the wake of yet another instance of a court going on record calling it wrong to punish statutory rape if the 15 year old girl voluntarily eloped with the accused, conveniently ignoring that this was not about kids engaging in consensual sex, but abduction as well. This is hardly an isolated instance and basically reflects complete breakdown of protective mechanisms against luring children into sexual relationships.

Recently, Brazil went on a spree for cleaning its reputation for sex tourism as a prelude to being spanking clean for the 2014 World Cup. In 2011, their government identified 2,169 websites with women in sensual poses or promoting sex with children and demanded a clean up. about 1,100 or so have cleaned up their act so far, and more are expected to. What I found worrisome is that the government seemed to find sex with adults and sex with children about the same. The reason why selling sex with children is illegal because they are considered incapable of making these choices and their exploitation is assumed (based on known prevalence) - which is of course the case with most children engaging in commercial sex. Equating it with an adult woman making her choices is an insult to both. An adult woman's rights to decide for herself need to be respected, just as it is important to prevent exploitation of children. They are entirely different things.

An old post by Indian Homemaker got recirculated for Child Sexual Abuse Awareness month, where she describes a court case that demonstrates the bizarre condition of our courts. A 15 year old girl eloped with a 22 year old man willingly. Her family filed a case against him for rape (the consent of a person under 16 years is not considered valid in Indian courts and it is automatically without consent, and thus rape), but later consented to the marriage. The court held the man guilty of kidnapping, but acquitted him of rape. Here is where it gets blurry. In India, child marriage is a crime, but another law holds that a man having sex with a 15 year old *wife* is not committing rape, even though she is not of the age of consent. In any case, while the families may later have agreed to the marriage, it was abundantly clear that when they had sex, they weren't.

Just for contrast, a High Court court in Rajasthan not only upheld the kidnapping of a married woman from her husband's home, but also put several restrictions on a well established tradition of marriage. The woman was 18. They were married. The family forcefully took her back and the court allowed it.

Indian Homemaker was rightfully indignant "I didn’t understand this judgement. Isn’t the girl a minor?"

I think our laws for children are not very well thought out. Here are some thoughts:

Age of consent

Age of consent in India is at 16 years old. All sex under this age is criminal, which is a rather impractical way of managing biology with legislation. The age of puberty is decreasing. Sexual freedom is increasing. Many, many children have boyfriends and girlfriends and have sex with them as a natural part of being human and growing into their sexuality. Criminalizing this is counterproductive to a healthy psychology around sex.

At the same time, it is important to see that children are not seduced into consent and thus exploited. This needs deliberation. A possibility may lie in age restrictions within a few years of their age.

I agree with the judge, that if the girl was willing, then it cannot be rape, even if she was under 16. But I have another big problem. That is with the marriage. While sex is a biological fact, marriage is a social norm and a contract. If the age of consent is 16 years and the minimum age of marriage to be 18 years (which is also the internationally recommended minimum age of marriage), then I think it makes the girl considerably unsafe for that marriage to be allowed to stand. The reason is that it opens the way for seducing minor girls and getting away with it if a complaint is made by offering marriage and pointing out or using some social pressure about being shamed to get agreement. In my view, this is exceedingly risky for a girl who cannot legally make any decisions for herself. And precedents like this WILL have lawyers recommending pedophiles to offer marriage rather than fight a losing case in court. That is what lawyers get paid for - to look for holes for their clients to slip through.

They had consensual sex. Ok, fine. However, to be married, the girl was under age, and that should be upheld by courts. They can continue to have their relationship or not; sex or not; which is between them (and likely their families), but they should be allowed to get married when they are of an age to get married.

I think the problem here is that governments care little for the rights of women or children and sex and marriage have been so thoroughly joined, or that the rights of women and children are carelessly clubbed together, that few are able to see distinct meanings. Which is how these things happen - a country engaging in sex tourism including child sex tourism bans all sex from websites, not just child sex. A child who has had sex with an adult gets abandoned by the legal system because he married her.

There is little nuance. There is little examination of implications for those to be protected. If an exploiter of children can marry one if he gets caught, what does it mean for the child to live in a home where she was accepted as an alternative to prison and where she was already sexually exploited? Particularly, when legally she doesn't even have full rights on her bank account, she can't drive, she can't walk out, hire a lawyer, make her own purchases or even buy her own phone? And our laws actually give the husband legal guardianship of the wife in such a situation - that is plain kinky. Either you are guardian, or husband. She may not be sexually exploited either, but there is a reason that the minimum age of marriage is not the age of puberty. It allows for the development of the girl - physically and mentally. It raises the minimum age of having children, which is an important health consideration as well as one for population control.

And there is a big need. Child marriages are big in India. 5% of all male and 30% of all females in India marry between 15 and 19 years. For every 1000 girls between 15 and 19 years of age, there are 45 who have kids. These are UNICEF statistics (2000-2010). The reality is far less sterile. Last year Bhaira Ram blew the whistle on a cousin marrying an underage daughter and got excommunicated by his village panchayat. An appeal to CM Ghelot got the mandatory "feel good" directive for the district administration to look into the matter, but nothing actually happened. Villagers agree he was wronged, but don't dare go against the panchayat. His children are alienated in school, and he is planning to leave his village and seek a life elsewhere. What is the kicker? The child marriage he alerted about still happened.

In a time like this, in social conditions like this, governments, judiciaries have a special responsibility to set standards based on ethics and rights, even if they go against the grain of popular traditions. That is how change happens, not by accommodating traditions we want to end. Not for vote banks, not for resistance. If institutions like the government and judiciary cannot challenge existing ills, then we might as well stop expecting the common man to destroy his life fighting them, no?

In that case, instead of a permanent seat in the UN, we should apply for a permanent seat in the bottom of human rights lists. We want to be a world power, then we MUST bring our human rights to world ideals. Or we are yet another bad example.