Why most rapes go unreported in India

The woman whose humiliation was captured on video in Bangalore over the New Year is not alone in fearing retaliation and further indignity

January 5, 2017 2:16 PM (UTC+8)
In this photograph taken on April 6, 2016, a victim of marital rape poses near her home in New Delhi. Photo: AFP
In this photograph taken on April 6, 2016, a victim of marital rape poses near her home in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

After New Year’s Eve turned out to be a night of shame for Bangalore, India’s IT capital, as girls who had gathered on MG Road to welcome 2017 were reportedly groped en masse, politicians were quick to put the blame squarely on the women themselves — for wearing ‘Western’ clothes.

While this mass molestation was still being debated, a video went viral of a Bangalore woman being groped and robbed as she walked home on the same night. In this instance, the police registered a criminal case suo motu as the victim refused to lodge a complaint. She, it seems, shares the fears of thousands of women in India who do not report what they suffer for fear of retaliation and humiliation.

For the first time since the turn of this century, the number of recorded cases of crimes against women, including rapes, witnessed a decline in India in 2015. But there is no cause for celebration: in reality, most cases go unreported.

Since 2001, when 143,795 cases of crimes against women were reported, India has witnessed a steady annual rise, to a peak of 337,992 in 2014; but in 2015, the number tumbled to 327,394. Similarly, the recorded number of rape cases across the country decreased from 36,735 in 2014 to 34,651 in 2015.

Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. But while the 2015 NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) statistics show that, on average, a woman is raped every 15 minutes, some experts warn that such figures underestimate the severity of the problem. They point to studies that show over 90% of cases go unreported.

An ActionAid UK report, for example, found that almost four out of five women (79%) in India have experienced some form of harassment or violence in public.

“Most of the offenders are serial rapists. As cases go unreported, they are encouraged to repeat the offense. The first steps towards curbing this menace are to sensitize people on the social stigma and encourage reporting of the crime”

Sarah Mathews, the Managing Trustee of Sankalp Women’s Support Alliance, which rehabilitates rape victims and offers them free legal support, says: “One reason why rape and sexual assault cases go unreported is because the perpetrators are closely related to the victims.”

Of the 34,651 cases of rape reported in 2015, in 33,098 (95.5%) of instances the offender was known to the victim as a close relative, neighbor or acquaintance. Furthermore, 11,393 (32.77%) of the victims were minors.

Between 2012 and 2015, the number of persons arrested for rape in India rose 35% to 42,036. However, a major discouragement for victims to come forward remains the courts’ snail-like processing of cases. “Rape cases often drag on for months and years, due to which the victims lose their faith and confidence,” says Mathews.

Moreover, while on average six women are gangraped in India every day, only a handful of these cases — usually in the major cities — are highlighted in mass media.

“Most of the rapes are planned; it isn’t a crime of opportunity,” says Mathews. “Most of [the offenders] are serial rapists, too. As cases go unreported, they are encouraged to repeat the offense. The first steps towards curbing this menace are to sensitize people on the social stigma and  encourage reporting of the crime.”

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Graphic by Anusha Venkat

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