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How The Indian Media Reports Rape, And Why It Must Change

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By Anesa Kratovac:

As a foreigner in India, both before my arrival and after spending over a month in the country, I have been baffled by the numerous instances of rape reported in the news. Another friend from Kenya expressed a similar view recently, and told me that one of the biggest things she was worrying about when she came to India was the incidence of rape in the country, and consequently, her own safety. How grave is the situation if rape is what India is becoming synonymous with in the eyes of the outsiders. Although rape does happen in various parts of the world for a number of reasons, especially as a weapon of war, the dominant social discourse of rape in India seemed like an outlier in the global context. The questions that run through one’s mind are predictable: Is the patriarchal society to blame? Is it poverty? Is it culture? But even if the answers to all of these questions were “yes”, that cannot explain why there is such prevalence in India and not in other patriarchal cultures where women’s agency has a long way to go in terms of gender equality.

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There are more countries in the world than not, where women are relegated to a secondary status. But out of all these “developing counties,” the media’s fixation on India was mind-boggling. It is a country where women are entering the modern work-force in great numbers and where there are many women leaders in all sectors of public and civil life. As a juxtaposition to this reality, there is another one where abhorrent poverty and social structure consign women to commodities to be traded and used.

India’s contradictions are nothing new. Recently, Amartya Sen co-wrote a book with Jean Dreze about the gaps between India’s progress and its simultaneous inability to deal with fundamental socioeconomic, health and ecological issues. By ignoring the latter, he states, India cannot truly progress. Simultaneously, he calls for the media’s attention to social issues and criticizes its focus on the areas of life where progress has been made. However, as far as incidence of rape, it is one area that the media does report on frequently, which has sparked a lively social dialogue of women’s issues in the country. But, still without much clarity of the underlying causes behind India being the poster country for rape incidences, I decided to do some research.And here are the surprising conclusions.

Rape is reported to be the 4th serious crime committed against women in India, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes. However, India is far from the outlier that I envisioned through my everyday encounters with the social discourse. In fact, although I was aware of the massive rape culture in American high schools, colleges and big cities in particular, I underestimated how the country where I am from fares in the prevalence of reported rapes per capita. In fact, both the United States of America and the “gender-equal” Sweden report, on average, yearly rape incidences in greater number than India. Although it is estimated that only 10% of cases are reported in India, when one accounts for the same 10% controls for the reports in the US and Sweden and adjusts the population numbers, the incidence in India is lower.

Now, that is something to consider and process- one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world and one of the most progressive countries in the world in terms of gender equality and social progress are by far worse perpetrators when it comes to rape than many other countries still struggling with widespread poverty, development issues and political turbulence.

So, what can be concluded from this? For one, rape is a ubiquitous problem that affects all societies alike, despite their respective economic standing and social values. Secondly, one can gather that incidence of rape is reported heavily in India and not as profoundly in other countries, creating an image of the mentioned countries as either safe and unsafe for women, which is far from the statistical truth. In fact, media distorts our views of crime and renders a specific discourse of values, social patterns and impressions upon our societies that we readily absorb just by the feat of existing. Indeed, the power of the media is vast and it affects how we view, feel and interpret messages and images around us. Precisely, this state of affairs should encourage us to have a critical outlook on what we hear and see and to do our own research by asking “why”.

Most importantly, this discussion highlights the vast progress we need to make in terms of creating gender equality in countries all over the world- not only “developing” countries, but countries that most of the world reveres and desires to emulate. This calls for each one of us to help empower and educate boys, girls, men and women equally to be active contributors to our societies and to respect and collaborate with one another.

This is exactly why I came to India. Currently, I am working with the Blue Ribbon Movement, a social enterprise geared towards leadership-building in youth. One of our programs, Avanti Young Women Leadership Program, is moving in the right direction to empower young women to take on social issues that affect their future livelihoods. What the Blue Ribbon Movement should likewise undertake in the near future in order to have an even far-reaching effect is to establish a leadership program for boys; the program would reach them young and while they are still forming attitudes about gender and about themselves as young men in their society. With an active involvement of today’s youth, we need to advocate for gender equality and condemnation of rape as unacceptable. Indeed, we all have very far to go, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

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  1. Carvaka

    It is a huge fallacy to look at the number of reported rapes to judge the prevalence of rapes in the country. You mentioned that you adjusted the numbers at the assumption of 10% rate or reporting in India and the US. I think it’s highly unlikely that the rate or reporting in the two countries is the same, considering (1) the much higher stigma of being a survivor in India, (2) much higher consequence of losing virginity in India for women (even through rape).. the arranged marriage system would reject you outright, (3) the fact that marital rape is not even considered a crime in India and hence impossible to report.

    Indeed all countries, even the developed, need to work on ending violence against women and rape. However the argument that things aren’t so bad in India because they’re also bad elsewhere or the argument that the rape of reporting shows the number of rapes are fundamentally flawed. Also considering that there are much fewer women outside the home and working in India than there are in the US, the risk factor should be lower in India anyway. Trivialising the issue cannot help.

    1. vikas

      Just to give my 2cents. Few people below say that India doesn’t count Marital Rape as Rape. Which is true but there is another Truth and that is that in India if A Girl claims that A Guy had Sex with her and promised to marry her and If the marriage doesn’t happen it is also considered as rape. So still if we include Marital Rape and Doesn’t count “Sex on Pretext of marriage as Rape” India will still have a low rape rate.
      http://www.thehindu.com/data/the-many-shades-of-rape-cases-in-delhi/article6261042.ece?

  2. Carvaka

    Fewer women in terms of percentage of total, not actual numbers.

  3. Monistaf

    This article is right on the mark!! There is an obsession on violence against women in the media because it gets the most attention. About 10% of all crimes committed in India are against women (National Bureau of crime records report for 2012), yet it probably accounts for close to 50 to 60% of crimes reported by the media which leads to the impressions that the author has expressed in the article, that India is very unsafe for women. Hiding the truth is just as bad as false reporting and I hope someday, the media wakes up to free and fair reporting. It is what separates excellence from mediocrity.

  4. Green Lantern

    There is as much rape and domestic violence in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Australia, etc, as there is in India, if not higher.

    Fast Facts on Domestic Violence

    Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. (“Violence Against Women, A Majority Staff Report,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.)

    There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters. (Schneider, 1990).

    Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers. (“Women and Violence,” Hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, August 29 and December 11, 1990, Senate Hearing 101-939, pt. 1, p. 12.)

    One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States. (Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991).

    One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. (Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy. National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” 2000; Sara Glazer, “Violence, Against Women” CO Researcher, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Volume 3, Number 8, February, 1993, p. 171; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000; The Commonwealth Fund, Health Concerns Across a Woman’s Lifespan: 1998 Survey of Women’s Health, 1999).

    In 1992, the American Medical Association reported that as many as 1 in 3 women will be assaulted by a domestic partner in her lifetime — 4 million in any given year. (“When Violence Hits Home.” Time. June 4, 1994).

    An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. (Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.)

    85% of domestic violence victims are women. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003)

    Police report that between 40% and 60% of the calls they receive, especially on the night shift, are domestic violence disputes. (Carrillo, Roxann “Violence Against Women: An Obstacle to Development,” Human Development Report, 1990)

    Police are more likely to respond within 5 minutes if an offender is a stranger than if an offender is known to a female victim. (Ronet Bachman, Ph.D. “Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report.” U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice and Statistics. January 1994, p. 9.)

    Battering occurs among people of all races, ages, socio-economic classes, religious affiliations, occupations, and educational backgrounds.

    A battering incident is rarely an isolated event.

    Battering tends to increase and become more violent over time.

    Many batterers learned violent behavior growing up in an abusive family.

    25% – 45% of all women who are battered are battered during pregnancy.

    Domestic violence does not end immediately with separation. Over 70% of the women injured in domestic violence cases are injured after separation.

    1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men have been stalked in their lifetime. (Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy. (1998). “Stalking in America.” National Institute for Justice)

    One in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape. (U.S. Department of Justice, “Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women,” November 1998)

    Nearly 7.8 million women have been raped by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. (Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.)

    Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next. (Frieze, I.H., Browne, A. (1989) Violence in Marriage. In L.E. Ohlin & M. H. Tonry, Family Violence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Break the Cycle. (2006). Startling Statistics)

    Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults. (Strauss, Gelles, and Smith, “Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence” in 8,145 Families. Transaction Publishers 1990)

    Children who witness violence at home display emotional and behavioral disturbances as diverse as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, self-blame and aggression against peers, family members and property. (Peled, Inat, Jaffe, Peter G & Edleson, Jeffery L. (Eds) Ending the Cycle of Violence: Community Responses to Children of Battered Women. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1995.)

    30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household. (Edelson, J.L. (1999). “The Overlap Between Child Maltreatment and Woman Battering.” Violence Against Women. 5:134-154)

    The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.

    Victims of intimate partner violence lost almost 8 million days of paid work because of the violence perpetrated against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends and dates. This loss is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity as a result of violence. (Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.)

    There are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs $37 billion. (The Cost of Violence in the United States. 2007. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Atlanta, GA.)

    One in ten calls made to alert police of domestic violence is placed by a child in the home. One of every three abused children becomes an adult abuser or victim.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in a national survey that 34 percent of adults in the United States had witnessed a man beating his wife or girlfriend, and that 14 percent of women report that they have experienced violence from a husband or boyfriend. More than 1 million women seek medical assistance each year for injuries caused by battering. (Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS); Horton, 1995. “Family and Intimate Violence”)

    The average prison sentence of men who kill their women partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are, on average, sentenced to 15 years. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1989)

    Women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003)

    Between 600,000 and 6 million women are victims of domestic violence each year, and between 100,000 and 6 million men, depending on the type of survey used to obtain the data. (Rennison, C. (2003, Feb). Intimate partner violence. Us. Dpt. of Justice/Office of Justice Programs. NXJ 197838. Straus, M. & Gelles, R. (1990). Physical violence in American families. New Brunswick, N.J.; Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence. National Institute of Justice, NCJ 181867)

    Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey, August 1995)

    People with lower annual income (below $25K) are at a 3-times higher risk of intimate partner violence than people with higher annual income (over $50K). (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)

    On average between 1993 and 2004, residents of urban areas experienced highest level of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Residents in suburban and rural areas were equally likely to experience such violence, about 20% less than those in urban areas. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)

    Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. 30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year. (Allstate Foundation National Poll on Domestic Violence, 2006. Lieberman Research Inc., Tracking Survey conducted for The Advertising Council and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, July – October 1996)

    http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/domviol/facts.htm

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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