Our system keeps victims of hidden rape silent
Who are the men who rape women in Delhi? To get the answer, Hindustan Times over the past one week took a close look at the three neighbourhoods in the Capital where reporting of rape was the highest, sifting details from the 103 FIRs alleging rape registered by women and girls in 2014.
In three areas, Aman Vihar (Outer Delhi), Ambedkar Nagar and Govindpuri (Southeast Delhi), all the men accused of rapes were known to the survivors. In 42 cases, they were men from the neighbourhood. In 30 cases, close family members had preyed on their young ones.
Our authorities have for long taken refuge in such stats. In 96% of all rapes cases, victims are known to the accused and police can't do much to prevent them because they are, as a former police chief had put it earlier, "opportunist crimes committed in private spaces".
By the same logic, police should not be expected to do much about murder because at least 50% killings in Delhi are triggered by property or family dispute, extra-marital affairs or business rivalries.
International crime data tells that sexual assault by someone known to the victim is a common trend.
A study by Mumsnet, a social networking site that launched the "We Believe You" campaign across the UK in 2012, revealed that more than a third of women surveyed had been subjected to some kind of sexual assault, and one in 10 had been raped. In 66% of cases, the women knew the person responsible.
In many states in the US, 'blind reporting' is being encouraged to allow victims of sexual assaults to file anonymous reports to the police without taking the burden of participating in the full investigation. Victims can also choose not to use their real names in medical and legal records related to the case.
We do not have such a system in India. Thankfully, following the legal reforms launched after the December 16 gang rape, the police are not turning away victims to make their record books look good. Reporting of rape has reached an all-time high.
But sexual crimes behind closed doors or the 'hidden rape' are still vastly under-reported. Reporting sexual assaults, especially if the attacker is a known person--worse, if he is from the family--requires remarkable courage because often victims are emotionally and financially dependent on their abusers.
Experts say the state support system can make it easier to detect such crime and assist victims wanting help. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, teachers and school counsellors are required by law to report child abuse, including incest, if they get to know about one. But in most schools, teachers have little time and sensitisation to engage with students and understand their issues.
Child protection committees have to be active and rescue programmes have to be better funded. Perpetrators of sexual assault are often serial criminals. So sex offender registers have to be regularly updated and widely publicised.
In Delhi, rape rehabilitation is the most ignored aspect of women safety. As activist Ranjana Kumari pointed out in HT's brainstorming session on women safety on Saturday, rape crisis centres are lying defunct because of the "political football" between the central and the state governments.
Getting financial aid requires numerous approvals. Even interim help to cover basic expenses such as medicines and trips to hospital and police station is caught in bureaucratic delays. It is worse in cases of minor victims whose predators are often known to them. Since most such cases are reported from lower income groups, financial and emotional help is required the most here.
In our present system, a rape survivor's suffering is akin to getting raped a second time. It is a shame to see dispirited women and girls who were bold enough to report their ordeal. Their examples are also a huge discouragement for others looking for support and assurance to find the courage to speak out.
(The writer tweets as @shivaniss62.)