10 Shocking Reasons Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Violence In India

Posted on November 10, 2014 in Gender-Based Violence, Lists, Society, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Kathakali Banerjee:

Devi. Mata. Nirbhaya. — The sense of “empowerment” that women in India live with is contrived at many levels. We worship our women as goddesses but only within the narrative of their chaste moral goodness. We respect the authority of a woman as a key decision maker inside the home but only so long as she puts everyone’s needs before hers. We’ve even hailed an unfortunate victim of sexual violence as fearless or as a beti (daughter) of the nation, but instead of asking more women to come out and speak up fearlessly, we still discourage women from leaving home alone.

violence against women

According to a government survey (National Family Health Survey report — 2005-06), 2 out of 3 women who have ever experienced violence have not only never sought help, but also have never told anyone about the violence.

A recent Twitter chat – #ReadyToReport- hosted by Amnesty International India, on whether women in India are ready to report violence, got me thinking about why rates of reporting sexual violence are so low, despite sexual violence being one of the most talked about issues in the media and society today.

1. Difficulties of Filing a Report

Under Indian law, the police must promptly record complaints, register a report and conduct an investigation on cases related to sexual violence. But instead, what we get when we try to file a report are tiring, overlong procedures, and several unwarranted questions (What were you wearing? Was there anybody else with you? ) The survivor barely understands the procedure, has to bear leering comments from the cops, and is often blamed for the incident occurring in the first place.


2. “Log kya kahenge?”

Women who are subjected to repeated sexual violence and sexual harassment may shy away from standing up against the perpetrator. The fear of social exclusion, further coercion from friends and family and the stressful journey of getting over the “survivor” tag adds to the ordeal. Suman Nalwa, a deputy police commissioner who heads a unit in New Delhi that focuses on crimes against women, said women fear being “labelled as morally loose…They know if they speak up, nobody would support. They internalize it to such an extent that it influences their life choices about where they will go to study, where they will work and when they will go out.”


3. Accepting such Incidents as Part of the Everyday Reality of Being a Woman

It is unfortunate that sexual violence against women is ingrained in our society in a way that it is perceived as part and parcel of being a woman. Incidents of street harassment, in particular, largely go unreported because they are seen as minor offenses, especially when no physical violence has occurred.

4. The Fear of Revenge

The dilemma around reporting sexual violence sometimes hinges on the fear of a backlash from the perpetrator. Filing an FIR can be seen as inviting more violence, rather than as a step towards ending it.

In the Madhyamgram Rape Case(West Bengal), a 16-year old girl was gang raped on October 26, and after she lodged a police complaint, she was gang-raped a second time the next day. The story does not end here. On December 23, she was allegedly set ablaze. The police recorded the death as a suicide, while her family said that she had been murdered. Her father further complained that the police had asked them to go back to Bihar. The apparent failure of the police in cases like these can discourage women from reporting violence.


5. Blaming the Clothes/Place as an Invitation to Rape

A woman’s clothing or her being at a certain location at a certain time is often — outrageously – blamed for leading to sexual violence against her. What makes matters worse is how such statements are made by political leaders.

“What is the need for roaming at night with men who are not relatives? This should be stopped.” -Abu Azmi, Samajwadi Party leader on 2012 Delhi gang rape

“One of the reasons behind the increase in incidents of eve-teasing is short dresses and short skirts worn by women. This in turn instigates young men.” -Chiranjeet Chakraborty, Trinamool Congress legislator



6. ‘Isne mera balatkaar kiya’ — The Traumatic Process of Police Investigations

The long drawn out investigation process after registering a report can also be a reason why women don’t report sexual violence. The long process can lead to re-traumatisation for the survivor, and can demoralise her from raising her voice.

‘Here is the routine of the identification parade that Megha is told to follow. There are separate line-ups of seven men, and the survivor has to pick the accused by touching him on the arm. She then has to go to a corner of the room, and announce loudly what the suspect did to her.

And this is what Megha does on September 4, in a room full of men that include her attackers, without any women officers present to aid her. She touches the men on the arm to identify them, and then says, Isne mera balatkaar kiya (He sexually assaulted me). She repeats this four times over.’

-From an account of a friend of the Shakti Mills gang-rape survivor


7. The attitude of the Police

Suzette Jordan narrates her awful experience while filing a complaint – “They laughed at me. They didn’t take me seriously”

There are many other allegations of police apathy and worse, including an incident of a gang-rape in Uttar Pradesh’s Ambedkar Nagar. When the victim lodged a police complaint, she was raped again, allegedly by two police personnel.


8. The Lack of Space for Dialogue

Educational institutions are also often guilty of not initiating enough dialogue with students about sexual violence or the processes in place to report incidents to the police or other authorities. Often they themselves perpetuate the culture of victim blaming, and do not create open environments for discussion through training or workshops with employees or students.


9. Lack of Family/Spousal Support

Lodging a complaint about violence inflicted upon a woman can immediately transform her into a “victim”, leading to humiliation and counter accusations. Her family or partner may also discourage her from raising her voice, to “save face”.

A supportive family structure can go a long way in ensuring that violence against women is reported and the prejudice surrounding such reporting is done away with.


10. Long Judicial Processes

The sheer length of the entire process, from lodging an FIR to getting justice can be a huge deterrent to reporting such incidents of violence.

The need of the hour is swifter and more efficient judicial processes that can help restore faith in the system.


Start the conversation and share your experiences on reporting using the hashtag, #readytoreport or tell us in the comments sections, ‘Are women ready to report sexual violence in India? Why or why not?’


Update: This piece was updated on 11 November 2016 and the below lines were removed from the piece:

Amnesty International India is soon launching a campaign to increase awareness on reporting and to facilitate women to report sexual violence safely, with dignity and without facing prejudice.