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Is India Really the “Rape Capital of the World”?

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Sexual assault is indeed a problem in India, but is rape actually more common in India than in the West? Social pressures, however, are a big factor in whether or not rapes are reported.

After the horrific Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 where a 23-year-old student was brutally raped and murdered aboard a bus in Delhi, there was massive public outcry. The incident shocked not only the people of India, but people across the globe. As citizens of Delhi took to the streets to protest the incident and claim justice for the victim, global media outlets blasted headlines, claiming India was the “Rape capital of the world.”

Fast forward to today. Since the protests, in 2013, the laws surrounding rape were reformed and the minimum sentence for rapists was doubled from 10 years to 20. This is not the first time such reforms have taken place in India regarding rape and sexual assault as highlighted by an article in the Wall Street Journal.

However, India still has a long way to go as it is still a major issue with reported cases increasing in number from 24,923 in 2011 to 34,651 in 2015. Emotional counselling for victims and their families and police sensitivity training are two areas in want of improvement.

The situation is not good today. But is it as grave as the world media portrays it? Whenever there is a conversation about India, rape is always brought up. If you don’t believe that statement, go look under the comments section on any major news outlet with an article discussing India. The reasons are few and clear. The first reason is the sensationalist reporting of crimes against women in India, particularly by French and American media outlets. The second reason is the highly vocal Indian media, who according to an article by TIME, “have faithfully recorded each and every rape case, highlighted them for the world and continue to do so.” The third is the active public outcry within India by ordinary citizens, political activists and feminist groups.

Is this condemnation of India as the “Rape capital of the world” justified? To answer that, one needs to look at the statistics. In 2015 there were 34,651 rape cases filed. One could argue that the number of reported rapes isn’t an accurate reflection of the real problem and that women are much less likely to report due to social stigma, bureaucratic hurdles, and a slow delivery of justice.

Sudha Sundharam, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association has estimated based on her experience in the field that only 1 in 10 rapes get reported in India. Given that information, we can estimate the real number of incidents in 2015 to be 346,510. That’s approximately 2.6 incidents per 10,000 people.

The United States had 90,185 reported cases of rape in 2015. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, a U.S. nonprofit organization, says only 46% of U.S. rape cases get officially reported. That’s approximately 196,054 total incidents or 6.1 incidents per 10,000 people, taking into the account the fact that the U.S. has a population approximately one third that of India’s.

Of course, there are problems when comparing statistics between countries as we’ve seen in the case of Sweden where rape cases are filed differently. One could argue that the above numbers aren’t accurate since marital rape is legal in India as well as cases with male/transgender victims aren’t recorded under the current Indian system. But whether adding in those cases would be able to close the gap is highly debatable.

The point of all this number crunching is not to point fingers one way or the other. It is merely to highlight that at its worst, the rape problem in India is comparably bad to countries in the developed world. The title of “Rape Capital of the World” being bestowed upon India is perhaps undeserved. Maybe it’s time for the Western media to focus on highlighting a problem, which affects countries other than India just as severely. Instead of painting some countries as rape capitals and others as relatively safe for women, the focus needs to be on ending sexual assault everywhere. 

Pranav Prakash is a student at Rutgers University. 

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