Although, women may be victims of all kinds of crime, be it cheating, murder, robbery, etc., yet the crimes in which only women are victims and which are directed specifically against them are characterised as “crime against women”. Broadly, crimes against women are classified under two categories: (1) Crimes under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which include seven crimes: (i) rape, (ii) kidnapping and abduction, (iii) dowry deaths, (iv) torture physical and mental (including wife battering), (v) molestation, and (vi) sexual harassment, and (vii) importation of girls. (2) Crimes under Special and Local Laws (SLL), which include seventeen crimes, of which the important ones are: (i) immoral traffic (1956 and 1978 Act), (ii) dowry prohibition (1961 Act), (iii) committing Sati (1987 Act), and (iv) indecent representation of women (1986 Act).
It is equally important to clarify the concept of ‘violence’ against women. If we take ‘violence’ as “conduct which incurs the formal pronouncements of the moral condemnation of the community,” or “deviation from conduct norms of the normative groups”, the scope of cases of ‘violence against women’ becomes too broad. Narrowly, the term ‘violence’ has been applied to “physically striking an individual and causing injury” (Kempe, 1982; Gil, 1970), to “the act of striking a person with the intent of causing harm or injury but not actually causing it” (Gelles and Strauss, 1979), to “acts where there is the high potential of causing injury” (Strauss, 1980), and to “acts which may not involve actual hitting but may involve verbal abuse or psychological stress and suffering”.
Megargee (1982: 85) has defined violence as the “overtly threatened or overtly accomplished application of force which results in the injury or destruction of persons or their reputation.” While understanding the concept of ‘violence’ and distinguishing it from concepts like ‘aggression’, ‘force’, and ‘coercion’, is both necessary and desirable, there is always the fear of getting bogged down in controversies relating to these concepts raised by various scholars. As a result, one may miss the very purpose of understanding broader aspects of the problem of “crime and violence against women”. ‘Violence’ must be recognised as a human phenomenon inasmuch as it consists of an act of one person which encroaches upon the freedom of another (Domenach, 1981: 30).
Here, we consider the operational definition of violence as “force, whether overt or covert, used to wrest from the individual (the woman) something that she does not want to give of her own free will and which causes her either physical injury or emotional trauma or both”. Thus, rape, abduction, kidnapping, murder (all cases of criminal violence), dowry death, wife battering, sexual abuse, maltreatment of a widow and/or an elderly woman (all cases of domestic violence) and eve-teasing, forcing wife/daughter-in-law to go for feticide, forcing a young widow to commit sati, etc. (all cases of social violence), are issues which affect a large section of society.
In the analysis of the problem of ‘crime against women’, we may focus on important issues like nature and extent of female crime in India, on identifying women who are generally victims of crime and violence, on those who are the perpetrators of crime and violence, on what motivates criminals to commit crimes or victimisers to use violence, and on measures which could contain the depersonalisation trauma of the victims.