Sexual Violence in India
Sexual violence is a major problem faced by women and girls in India. It is already a challenge for survivors to obtain justice in the Indian legal system, and those from the country’s marginalized communities face even more major barriers.
Recent reports show an increase in incidents of sexual violence against children, with reporting doubling between 2012 and 2016. Current estimates hold that about four out of 10 rape survivors in India are minors.
Although about 100 new cases are reported every day to the police, reporting rates throughout the country are devastatingly low, with one government survey finding that 99.1 percent of cases go unreported.
Yet, as of 2016, the most recent data available, there were over 133, 000 sexual violence cases awaiting trial and conviction rates are very low. Survivors of sexual violence face huge barriers in accessing justice, including community pressure to drop the case, discriminatory attitudes of police and judicial officers, insufficient legal aid and discouraging conviction rates. These challenges are often magnified if the survivors are members of India’s marginalized communities, particularly if they are Dalits, Adivasis or Muslims.
Why do people commit sexual violence?
Sexual violence is a crime rooted in control and patriarchy, including male entitlement.
In India, society often still shifts blame onto survivors, shaming a survivor and her family into silence. This is especially true among those are already marginalized within Indian society, leaving them particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. This culture of shame follows survivors into law enforcement, the court system and into hospitals, further silencing survivors’ voices.
What are the barriers to justice for survivors of sexual violence in India?
Sexual violence survivors who choose to report face many obstacles to justice in India.
Families are a source of pressure for survivors to remain silent, and those who come forward may see their families endure harassment, and even be made to flee.
Doctors and other medical professionals sometimes still force survivors to undergo the “two finger test,” further traumatizing women and girls while subjecting them to an invasive and degrading assault with no medical basis and risking increasing psychological harm on top of the trauma already suffered.
Survivors may have great difficulty accessing counseling services, or have no access, and must contend with insufficient legal support, including delays in filing their complaints. Survivors bringing forward cases where the accused was from a powerful background also faced pressure from law enforcement officers to drop their case, or to “compromise,” rather than move their case forward through the judicial system, which contributes to the country’s low conviction rates.
These barriers are magnified for survivors from Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim communities who face caste and religious discrimination in addition to sex discrimination when accessing the legal system.
Together, these elements comprise a system that force sexual violence survivors to undergo numerous indignities in their often futile attempts to access justice.
What does the law in India say?
India has made wholesale changes to its rape laws in recent years, including expanding the definition of rape to include to include that the absence of a physical struggle does not equate to consent. Another recent reform is the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO) which called for the establishment of child friendly courts and practices that would not require a minor survivor to make numerous court appearances to deliver their testimony, and law enforcement officers who fail to register complaints made by sexual violence survivors will also face compulsory jail time.
However, many of the recommendations made by the Justice Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law, made after the infamous Delhi gang rape case in 2013, have yet to be implemented. In particular, the Committee had recommended many systemic and procedural reforms including police reforms, reforms in management of sexual violence cases and education reforms aimed at preventing sexual violence.
Marital rape is still not a crime in India.
What does international law say?
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for Gender Equality and enumerates several targets, including:
- End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
- Eliminating “ all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including sexual [violence]”
- The adoption and strengthening of “sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.”
What is Equality Now doing about this?
Equality Now aims to ensure our advocacy and communications are informed by the needs, experiences, and voices of women and children survivors who are of sexual violence and that all of our work is based on accurate information and evidence, as we work to help survivors in India identify the key obstacles they face in accessing justice.
We intend to build relationships with groups from marginalized communities, not just in the context of religions, but also in the context of the caste system where those from traditionally oppressed castes face greater discrimination and have less access to resources, support and justice, and work with them to address particular obstacles they may face in obtaining justice. Working with our partners, we will strengthen India’s law and legal processes to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence. This includes developing an understanding of gaps in protecting women and girls and where the law is not being effectively implemented as well as barriers to accessing justice and holding perpetrators accountable. We will hold the Indian government accountable to its international legal obligations.
What can you do?
Take action to call on India to make marital rape a crime!
- Equality Now’s 2017 report on The Global Rape Epidemic
- “India’s Criminal Justice System is Failing Survivors of Sexual Violence”, Inter Press Service, June 2019 (Op-ed by Equality Now’s South Asia Consultant Divya Srinivasan)