A standard joke among crime reporters is that if you mention rape to a cop, even in his sleep he will tell you that the victim was known to the accused. So it was not surprising when early this month the Delhi Police commissioner tried the same line while explaining why police could not do much about the rising numbers of rape. After all, it is an "opportunist crime committed in private space".
He was releasing Delhi Police's annual report for 2011 that showed a 12% spurt in crime against women. The report meticulously explained, in pie charts and bars, "the accused-victim relationship in rape cases" and the initiatives by police to control sex crime.
Police duly claimed credit for bringing down the number of assaults on women by strangers by 1.5% but told us that they could not do much in stopping rape if it involved an acquaintance or a relative.
Really? International crime data tells that sexual assault by someone known to the victim is a common trend all over the world. So has the international police community been absolved of the responsibility of curbing rape?
By the commissioner's logic, police should not be expected to do much when people kill because at least 50% murders in Delhi are triggered by property or family disputes, extra-marital affairs or business rivalries.
Delhi police's excuse undermines one of the fundamentals of ensuring a lawful society. Of course, even if each of Delhi's 84,000 cops is put on duty to solely look after women's safety round-the-clock, there will still be several lakhs of potential rape victims outside their watch at any point of time. But crime rate does not merely depend on the intensity of physical vigil. What keeps crime in check is a psychological deterrent that restrains a potential criminal because he fears getting caught, prosecuted and punished.
We have strict criminal laws. Our judiciary is independent. So the enforcement agency has little excuse for failing to successfully convict more than 35% of the rape accused.
In New York City, 3,302 were raped in 1990. Under mayor Rudolf Giuliani, the New York Police Department adopted a zero tolerance policy. Soon, the number of street crimes came down and the message was not lost on serious offenders either. In 2010, NYC recorded 1,373 cases of rape, an almost 60% drop in two decades. In comparison, over the same two decades, between 1990 and 2010, the number of rapes increased in Delhi by 330%, from 153 to 507. Last year, the count was 562.
Surely, the numbers would have also fallen in Delhi if the assailants did not enjoy a fair chance — two out of three — to get away with rape. Instead of hiding behind excuses such as rise in population (and hence a lesser population-crime ratio), rapes in private space or accused-victim relationship, if our cops devote their energy to ensure a better conviction rate, the crime figures on their report card will make happier headlines; and the capital will be a lot less dangerous for women.