Rape and sexual assault rates still rising in India | Asia Pacific

Rape and sexual assault rates still rising in India

Rape and sexual assault rates still rising in India

Updated 16 December 2013, 12:26 AEDT

To India, where a new study says reported rapes in the capital Delhi have almost doubled and sexual assaults increased four-fold.

The report was released one year since the brutal assault on Jyoti Singh on a bus last December.

Ms Singh later died of her injuries, and her case prompted a public outcry.

The report was released by ActionAid India, a women's rights focussed, anti-poverty organisation.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Mark Chenery, head of community engagement, ActionAid Australia

CHENERY: What we know is that the rape numbers have doubled from around 700 to over 1300 between 2012 and in the first 9 months of this year and it's impossible for us to actually say whether that is because more women are coming forward or more rapes are being incurred.

But certainly from our reading, it is very likely that the increased public scrutiny and attention, but also the mainstream way in which rape is now discussed in India means that it's something that women feel more comfortable coming forward with.

And another figure is also that the reported sexual assaults have quadrupled from 700 to 2,800 and this again suggests that its a case of more women coming forward than any sort of an explanational spike in the number of cases.

LAM: Nonetheless Mark, the figures are still disturbing, aren't they. Twelve months after (Jyoti Singh) Nirbhaya's death, has the community rage been maintained do you think, has the message got out there in the wider community that rape crimes must be stopped?

CHENERY: Well, this is the tricky thing. We obviously believe that public attitudes are changing and they will change, but they are slow to change. But the fact that violence against women is now a mainstream topic and that women apparently or seemingly are coming forward more often at a greater rate is a really positive sign of progress.

But there is still a long way to go and we should keep in mind that the numbers that we're seeing here are the reported cases and we know in India, in Delhi, as anywhere in the world, the number of reported cases is a lot lower than the actual number of cases.

LAM: Indeed, and I noticed also that ActionAid has called for higher conviction rates. Are there signs that the courts in India are speeding up the processes and hearing more cases?

CHENERY: Yes, certainly Jyoti Singh's case means that it has been conducted much more rapidly, so that's what a 9, 10 month process as opposed to something that usually drags on for years. We're not necessarily seeing signs or any data that suggests that on the whole, these cases have been speeded up.

Obviously media attention to her case was very high in India, but we're not necessarily seeing that speeding up and that's obviously one of the things that ActionAid is calling on the Indian government to do.

LAM: And Mark, your report also made some proposals, such as a 24 hour hotline and women cells, staffed by women, including legal advisors and women police - can you tell us more about that?

CHENERY: Well, one of the most important things is that women feel comfortable coming forward and that's one of the things that in India has prohibited women. They feel like they're going to be shamed by doing so, that they're cases won't be treated seriously and that's why, one of the reasons why we're calling for a 24 hour National Helpline specifically for rape survivors and staffed not only by police, but also legal advisors, that can take the calls directly from women and give them support and give them advice and help them do things like fill out the paperwork that they need to fill out in order to have their cases heard.

LAM: But are there signs though that Indian police culture, for example, are there signs that the authorities are making some attempts towards changing that?

CHENERY: Absolutely. There's definitely signs that at least at the public level, that the authorities are taking violence against women more seriously. But again, from a very low starting point, as there's a hell of a lot more to do.

LAM: Is there a kind of uneven-ness, if you like, in India, regarding the way rape cases are addressed and attitudes towards rape cases?

CHENERY: Yes, obviously this horrendous and sort of graphic case of the Delhi University student, not only got India's headlines, but also global headlines.

What we've seen is from the cases that we've worked on, we know that women from poor, marginalised and socially excluded groups like Dalits or tribal people and certainly the urban poor are more at risk from violence. They're both more afraid to report crimes to police and they're also less likely to see justice done.

So what we want to do is create more solidarity between different womens groups, between different castes and classes and make sure that this is dealt with in a more equal way.

LAM: There were wide protests, especially in Delhi, after the 2012 incident. But the high incidents of rape in India was set down to male culture in the wider community.

Did you're report look at Indian male attitudes and whether there's been any developments there in the 12 months since?

CHENERY: Yes, obviously male attitudes, because it's men that commit most of the violence against women, so that's obviously something that is crucial in terms of stopping it and it's the culture that we're really focused on, as opposed to things like conviction rapes. Obviously want to prevent violence against women, not just respond to it.

But we didn't specifically look at male attitudes, but we know that in the communities where we work on grassroots justice programmes, that male attitudes can and do change and we hope that the increased attention to this issue is going to lead to that change at least in the long term.

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