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How Do We Combat the Epidemic of Sexual Violence Against India’s Women and Girls?

How Do We Combat the Epidemic of Sexual Violence Against India’s Women and Girls?

Written by Sarah Degnan Kambou

Recently, a journalist called India’s politics “too violent for women,” citing the fact that only eight percent of last month’s electoral candidates were women. Women’s rights advocates acknowledged that the threat of rape and harassment likely contributed to women staying out of politics.

The sad truth is that the political sphere is just one of the many places in India that women find dangerous. Just recently, we heard news that two young girls in a rural village were gang-raped then hanged from a tree. Another news story reported that four 16-17 year-old girls were attacked and sexually assaulted in a rural village in Haryana State. These brutal assaults are just two that made the headlines in a week’s time.

Girls in villages across India are at risk of sexual assault. India’s cities aren’t any safer for women and girls.

In late 2012, shortly before the now infamous fatal gang-rape of the New Delhi woman who was riding a bus with her fiancé, ICRW conducted a study to understand just how safe – or unsafe – Delhi’s women and girls felt in the city’s public spaces. Nearly two years later, ICRW is striving to go back to see what, if anything has improved or changed in how women and girls feel about safety in public spaces.

What we found back in 2012, simply by asking men and women to share their experience, was eye-opening. From the streets to bus stops to crowded market places, women surveyed told us that they don’t feel safe in public, and half of men surveyed told us that they, at some point, have engaged in sexual aggression, with many respondents saying that women are ultimately responsible if they are sexually harassed or assaulted.

Again, this research was collected weeks before the gang rape, indicating that Delhi’s women and girls were already well aware that the public spaces which they pass through every day were unsafe – and that an attack that would rock India and catch the world’s attention was, unfortunately, likely to happen sooner rather than later.

When surveyed, only five percent of respondents told our researchers that they feel “safe” or “very safe” in New Delhi’s public spaces. And 73 percent of respondents said that women and girls face sexual aggression in their own neighborhoods. Additionally, 63 percent of women said they are fearful when they go out after dark and more than 20 percent say they avoid going outside alone altogether, for fear of violence. That’s one in every five women who often choose not to engage in public life because they fear for their safety.

Research shows that both fear and actual experience of sexual violence in the public realm have a profound impact on women’s and girls’ daily routines, lifestyle, and their emotional and physical health. Since the world’s attention turned to India after this horrific attack in 2012, the government has taken some important steps to combat violence against women. A month after the attack, the Verma Commission made recommendations to change India’s criminal law code in order to provide quicker trials and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. This was seen as an important step to acknowledge that broader approaches were needed to combat sexual violence and that the government needs to take seriously any attack on women and also to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their crimes.

We know that even before the attack in Delhi in December of 2012, women and girls felt unsafe. What we don’t know is whether or not actions by the Indian government, including recommendations by the Verma Commission, have actually made a difference in the lives of India’s women and girls. Do women and girls feel safer? Are perpetrators of sexual violence held accountable? Or is justice languishing in court rooms and police stations while women continue to fear for their safety every time they step out of their homes?

With the world watching, Indian officials promised to take important steps to tackle this massive problem, affecting women in India’s cities, rural villages, schools, homes and on public transportation. They must be held accountable for promises they have made to keep women and girls safe. And the global community must ensure the steps that the Indian government has taken are actually working to keep streets, schools, bus stops and any other public space safe and free from violence.

So what do we plan to do? ICRW is working to collect a second round of data so that we can determine the scope and scale of violence facing Delhi’s women and girls.

So much energy has gone into policy reform, judicial review, criminal process and sentencing of the perpetrators, media attention and citizen action campaigns. Repeating the survey will allow ICRW to ascertain the extent of change in conditions for women and girls in Delhi given that enormous effort. New research will inform what actions must be taken to secure public spaces, which laws and policies must be enforced to combat sexual violence, and how communities can work together to make sure that attacks like the one in 2012 never happen again.

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Photo Credit: Jordi Boixareu via Flickr

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103 comments

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11:46AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Thank you

8:35AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Why not start with castrating all bloody raping mongrels...there's something seriously wrong with the male population of that country. It's just not normal to have this high a % of rape. Their tiny brains outta be studied too.

7:14AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Aman - If you think all these cases are false "due to feminists sponsored gender based stupid laws" how do you explain the hanged women? the woman and her boyfriend murdered in Delhi? the many, many acid attacks?

Do you think these are part of a 'feminist plot, too?

10:12PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

How do we fix this situation is easy if you see something bad in this story then you obviously have some forgiveness of yourself to do, as its just showing you what you need to forgive, another name is Karma.

12:45PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Some people worry that whipping is uncivilized, but the punishment can be used to keep non-mentally-impaired men civilized and under proper self-control (just as potentially dangerous lions are kept under control under threat of the liontamer's whip). Similarly, making prisons a safe and civilized environment, and administering whipping in a controlled and professional manner is more civilized and productive than intentionally exposing men to dehumanizing and dangerous treatment in prison. Many people have no problem with boys being paddled or switched but think this should stop at some preteen or young teen age, just as their hormones are kicking in and they are at risk of crimes such as date rape and other sexual offences. Why should we be averse to laying a few painful stripes across the backs or backsides of these young, testosterone-laden males in their late teens and twenties, newly free of parental supervision and discipline, who commit most of the sex crime if they abuse a woman? These are also the strong, young, immature men who are assaulting women in the military and on college campuses. They need as much incentive as possible to control themselves so that they do not ruin the lives of women or their own.

12:44PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

I want to thank those you who sent me Green Stars and positive comments based on my pro-flogging points. My goal is to raise consciousness on and support for this solution. It can be shocking concept to consider initially for people who live in societies where it has not been used for half a century, but many people find it makes sense (as a deterrent for men who abuse women) if they open their minds to it. For example, many people who move to Singapore from elsewhere and almost all who were born there are firm believers in the caning that is practiced under the justice system there (this even applies to the vast majority of men who have been caned themselves). And I am no hater of men. I just believe that sex offenders should be punished in ways that are effective for them and support reform. The current idea that men should just get longer prison sentences (where they become even less civilized) for sex crimes is ineffective because no man knows how long the prison sentence in any jurisdiction would be anyway, and there is very little in the way of rehabilitative counselling and education. The men should know that conviction on a sex crime involves prison and a guaranteed whipping (as all men know in places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, etc. -- and some men try to negotiate for more time in prison in exchange for fewer lashes since the punishment is so dreaded). Some people worry that whipping is uncivilized, but the punishment can be used to keep non-mentall

11:37AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Another survey will not solve the problem.

10:31AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

I want to acknowledge the validity of a comment made by a previous reader. Women can make false allegations. Anyone who thinks this needs to be downplayed by the justice system out of political correctness is no friend to men or women because that creates problems between the genders. It people makes people more suspicious of legitimate allegations, makes men resentful and negative towards women (because a lot of good men live in constant fear of being accused of sexual misconduct because they know how hard it would be to prove their innocence to a court or society given the politically correct view that a woman would not lie about that and should not be punished if she did because it might deter others from reporting), and it makes society queasy about applying decisive punishment (namely, the lash) to men who abuse women because we fear that the man might later be found to be innocent. In this day of modern forensics, etc., let's please make the priority getting to the truth (free of politics and agendas) and punish both sex offenders and false accusers, when we have clear proof of wrongdoing, for the good of everyone.

9:45AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

This is horrible!

9:15AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Thanks

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