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

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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.

You must be to comment.
  1. Gaurav

    violence cannot be stopped now, it is too late. war is coming to us from inside and outside. learn to fight back, there is need for blood not tears. this fight is useless. let us go out and finish this stupid game of life. indians have long held wrong views on violence and that is why we have suffered. ballistics anyone!!

    1. Fem

      Stop typing Gaurav. You are drunk again.

  2. Ekta Yadav

    If a girl goes out with a friend from the opposite sex, its a crime and on the other hand molestation or rape is treated as a petty offence.
    means a girl can’t kiss consensually but someone / some men can rape me and still she would be the one told to keep quite because its her who would be defamed its her fault…why?
    Oh! she was wearing sleeveless!!

    what i know is its not the assault victim that should feel ashamed!!! and a girl is as much a human an any guy and has the right to roam anywhere, with or without anyone in whatever attire she likes to wear and noone has the right to question her or make her feel uncomfortable in any way BECAUSE INDIA IS A FREE COUNTRY AND WE, GIRLS TOO, ARE AS MUCH A PART OF IT AS THE OPPOSITE SEX.

  3. priyasha

    #readytoreport Here’s what some of my experiences have been like.

  4. Zephyr Rose

    The problem with society is that they don’t understand that rape isn’t just about sex. Neither is it sex. It is okay to some extent to giggle about doing the deed and it is okay to talk pleasantly about it and laugh about it. But you CAN’T laugh about rape. Rape is not something that is funny or something to snigger about. Rape is terrible. Rape is a crime. It is traumatizing. It is about losing control of your own body. How can we put ‘making love’ and this barbaric act against women in the same category? Before we start doing anything we need to change the perspective about rape. Rape is not about sex. Rape is about sexual violence.

  5. Aditya Malpani

    On the other hand we also have false cases being reported which can destroy lives of many males. The law is biased so a male cannot report sexual harassment against him.
    That was a thing that was encouraged by feminists to amend laws from being gender neutral to gender specific. We always talk of crimes against women but does anyone ever think of crimes against men. The crimes which make suicide rate higher in men than in women…

  6. sarath

    Ladies in India need to really come forward with these offenses rather than hiding behind excuses like these. There can be no movement in the world which can shut the mouth of ignorant and backward retards of the society who blames it on your clothes or the time you went out. There will be inevitably procedures too, but you need to go through it only if you want to really prove your case. If there is no procedure or investigation, anyone can be accused of rape and the sentence will be passed without regard to the possibility of him/her being innocent. Which I feel will not benefit the society in the long run. I do not think these things should keep people from reporting a crime.

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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.

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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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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.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

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