How can a woman who has been raped expect to find justice in a country where she already has less value than a man; where domestic violence is more the norm than the exception; and where she is rarely protected outside her home? Even worse, why would she even report it in a country where law enforcement officials tend not to take rape cases seriously, pressures her to marry her rapist and face a degrading medical examination which is designed mostly to determine if she was a virgin prior to the incident?
Such is the case in India, where rape victims are often blamed because, according to leading Indian politicians, women should not roam in streets at midnight. Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely viewed as morally loose in Indian society. Some village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cell phones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the number of rapes.
Bystanders frequently look the other way rather than intervene when verbal sexual harassment or groping occurs in public. Male politicians contribute to the problem, making statements making light of or vilifying supporters of rape victims. One regional policymaker, Anisur Rahman, recently asked a female minister what her fee would be for getting raped.
The recent assault and gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi woman developed into outrage over India’s much larger sexual violence problem. The woman and a male friend were returning home from a movie and had boarded a bus on the night of December 16, 2012. For two hours, four men including the bus driver beat them with iron rods, robbed them and gang-raped her. Then they were thrown out onto the street, nude, to die in the cold night.
For 25 minutes, they lay by the road naked and crying for help. Finally one of the approximately 20 onlookers called the police. Even after the police arrived, they argued among themselves about which police station the case belonged to. The police took no measures to cover the couple nor to call an ambulance. It was two hours before the couple arrived at the hospital.
A few days later, a teenage Indian woman was raped. According to her family, the police who arrived to interview her asked demeaning questions, making a horrific situation worse. Instead of filing a complaint, they asked the teenager vulgar details, in effect, raping her again. Forty-four days after her rape, the girl committed suicide.
In another recent case, police reportedly pressured a 17-year-old victim to marry one of her rapists or to reach an informal financial settlement with the men. She was also pushed to withdraw the case. She, too, committed suicide.
One of the major issues in New Delhi, the rape capital of India, is just 7% of police officers are women. Of the 161 district police stations there, only one has a female station house officer. The Delhi police have indicated they will launch a special effort to recruit more women as a result of the gang-rape incident.
Besides not having enough female officers, there are not enough police dedicated to protecting ordinary citizens, rather than elites. The available officers lack basic evidence-gathering and investigative training and equipment. For example, Delhi has one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with some 84,000 officers. Yet, only one-third are involved in any kind of real policing at any given time, while the rest provide protection services to various politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other elites. According to the Times of India there is one officer for every 200 citizens and about 20 officers for every VIP.
India’s rape problem is not going to improve until it finds a way to deal with its daunting and generations-long work of changing Indian social attitudes toward sexuality and gender. The acceptance of domestic violence is often seen as deserved. A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57 % of Indian boys and 53% of Indian girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified.
From birth, Indian sons are fed better than their sisters, are more likely to be sent to school and have brighter career prospects. For poor families, the need to pay a marriage dowry can make daughters a burden.
Recently, Indian politicians have put forward a slew of possible remedies for Indian’s sexual violence problem. Still, it will not be easy to end discrimination against women at police stations, or anywhere else in the country, when it has its roots in the crib.