Indian authorities arrest 3 suspects in rapes that were videotaped and shared on WhatsApp

In a controversial move, the videos were brought to light by activist Sunitha Krishnan

Indian students at a demonstration in Hyderabad following the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in 2013. NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

In India, three men have been arrested in connection with a startling crime—raping women, then circulating videos of the rapes on social media.

An official at India’s Central Bureau of Investigation told Women in the World that the arrests were made this spring and that an investigation is under way. The probe is “complex,” the CBI official said, because “the date and location of the incidents are unknown and uncertain.”

The probe began in February when an Indian activist, Sunitha Krishnan, learned that videos of men raping women were circulating on social media. An acquaintance had sent two videos to Krishnan, who runs an organization to fight sex trafficking, Prajwala. One video showed a man raping a woman; the other showed five men raping a woman, Krishnan told Women in the World. The videos were making the rounds on the cellphone messaging service WhatsApp, she said.

Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, declined to comment for this story.

Sickened by what she saw, Krishnan took a controversial step: She posted edited versions of the videos on YouTube, blurring the images of the women and highlighting the faces of the men, so viewers could identify the men. At the same time, she launched a social-media campaign called #ShameTheRapist, urging people to send her more videos. Seven more videos arrived, she said. She contacted law enforcement and called for an investigation.

“I decided enough is enough. This is a war and we need to fight it with the right strategy,” she wrote on her blog in February.  “For too many centuries the victim has been shamed, victimized, isolated, ostracized, and stigmatized for a crime she has never committed.”

The Indian media took notice, and Krishnan discussed her campaign on national television, showing images from the videos. Afterward, her car was vandalized, she said, and she began receiving abusive emails and phone calls.

According to the CBI, nine videos are under investigation. Two men, Subrat Sahoo and Debashish Dev, have been arrested for “allegedly assisting in filming a woman engaged in the sexual act without her voluntary consent,” the CBI said. A third man, Kashik Kuanar, has been arrested for “allegedly uploading three videos containing gang-rape scenes of unidentified women by unidentified males.” The three men are in custody, according to the CBI. The men were not made available for comment.

Krishnan came under some fire for her decision to post the edited videos online. Critics said she should not have posted them without the consent of the women in the videos. In response, Krishnan said, “Everybody has a right to their opinion,” but she argued that she “completely blurred the images of the victims.” She noted, “My targets are offenders. Just because the victim does not want to report due to fear and shame does not mean that the crime can be ignored. I am targeting the offenders with their own weapon of shaming.”

In the videos, she said, the men smile and laugh while attacking the women. “End of the day, they are flaunting it, right?” She added, “And where were these critics when these videos were circulated with the faces of the victims clearly?”

Krishnan, 43, is a survivor of gang rape herself. When she was 15, she was sexually assaulted by eight men, in retaliation for teaching lower-caste people how to read and write, she has said. Her assailants were not brought to justice, and she was shunned by classmates, neighbors, and relatives. A few years later, she cofounded her group Prajwala in her native Hyderabad to rescue and rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking. The group has since helped thousands of victims.

The recent arrests in the video probe are unprecedented, Krishnan said. “Most people did not even know that such things existed. For the first time ever, a message has been passed in the country that such things are not going to be tolerated,” she said. The CBI official confirmed that “this is one of the first such cases where a person has been arrested for allegedly uploading videos of rape.”

The issue of rape in India attracted international attention after the fatal gang rape in 2012 of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi. The attack prompted new laws setting harsher penalties for offenders.

Krishnan, who spoke at the Women in the World Summit in New York City last month, said she has received dozens more videos since launching her campaign. She continues to work with authorities. She says law enforcement has a long way to go in taking rape seriously in India, but that she has a “sense of hope and a conviction that this impunity of sex offenders will be destroyed.”

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