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Legalising prostitution or pornography will not bring down rapes. This is why the argument is flawed

Some people have suggested that prostitution should be made legal in India and the ban on pornography should be lifted to make India safer for women. Apparently taking these two steps could reduce the number of rapes in India. The argument is flawed and reflects the lack of understanding of the problem, which appears to have become an epidemic in India.

The only thing that binds prostitution, pornography, and rape is the apparent element of sex. However, just because there is one element common in all three, it doesn’t mean that they are all heavily dependent on each other. This is a mistake that is being made again in wake of the Hyderabad rape-and-murder case where a young veterinary doctor was raped and then burnt to death by four men.

Some people have suggested that prostitution should be made legal in India and the ban on pornography should be lifted to make India safer for women. Apparently taking these two steps could reduce the number of rapes in India. The argument is flawed and reflects the lack of understanding of the problem, which appears to have become an epidemic in India.

Most European countries have given legal status to prostitution and pornography, but are those countries or societies free of incidents of rape? In fact, official data shows that the incidents of rape per thousand people in those countries are much higher than what is reported in India.

Yes, one can argue that many rape cases go unreported in India, however, the argument that we are evaluating here is whether legalising prostitution and pornography are solutions to the problem of rape. They clearly aren’t, as they don’t appear to have helped the countries were sex work or adult entertainment industries are established and recognised industries. Of late, the rape problem in Europe has gotten only worse.

Let us evaluate both of these supposed solutions independently. Let us first take prostitution. By suggesting that rape incidents can be controlled if prostitution is legalised, one is essentially assuming that rapes happen because people don’t have easy access to sex. In a more crude way, the argument is that men are raping women as they are not finding enough women ready to have sex with them.

Is that why rapes happen? Then no married man ever should commit the crime of rape. Defence lawyers in India are supposed to come up with most weird arguments, how will our society react if some lawyer of a rapist comes with an argument that his ‘poor client’ was driven to commit rape because his wife was not having regular sex with him?

Secondly, how are we so sure that people who frequent brothels don’t commit rape? And thirdly, it is not about not having enough women ready to have sex with you; even Casanovas and ‘handsome charming men’ have been found guilty of rape.

There is another issue, that of presumed “easy access”. Are we so sure that millions of women will register as sex-workers if and when prostitution is legalised in India, thus making this service “affordable”? Going to a prostitute will cost money, and given the economic background of rapists that we now know in the Hyderabad case, are we sure they would have spent money on prostitutes?

Similar augments can be made against the idea of bringing down rapes by legalising and making pornography available to the masses. It is really naive to think that in today’s world, with everyone having a cheap smartphone and with India having one of the cheapest data rates in the world, people don’t have access to pornography. Courts might have pushed ISPs to ban popular porn sites, but what about video clips and images that can be shared via WhatsApp and other means?

In fact, if the mobile phones of the Hyderabad rapists are checked, one shouldn’t be surprised to find a collection of pornographic images and video clips. In the 2013 Shakti Mills gang-rape case of Mumbai, it was found that the rapists were not only porn addicts, but they also made the victim act the way they saw ‘actors’ perform in those pornographic clips. Pornography also enables a mindset that you need a new act every time. You are not satisfied with the just 3-4 video clips that you can save. This is the mindset that enables you to go on a hunt for new “targets”. Therefore, one can argue, and many have argued, that pornography actually leads to an increase in sex-related crimes.

The biggest flaw in linking both prostitution and pornography with rape is the presumed belief that rape is just about sex. It often is not about sex. It is invariably about a man applying his brute power over a woman to prove to himself (and in some cases to his group) his masculinity and sexual power. Why the man wants to prove that could be triggered by various reasons, but a desire to have sex is not one of the reasons.

The only arguments in favour of legalising prostitution and pornography should be about free will and free markets. Obviously, the arguments of morality, human trafficking, exploitation etc. would be against the idea. But these are the set of arguments that we should stick to when talking about prostitution or pornography. Let us not link the problem of rape with them.

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