Political Animal


December 29, 2012 11:25 AM How Many Rapes Go Unreported in India?

By Jesse Singal

That’s been the question on my mind as I’ve read about the tragic news from India. The Times reports that “India, which has more than 1.3 billion people, recorded 24,000 cases of rape last year, a figure that has increased by 25 percent in the past six years.”

That’s a staggeringly low number, when you take into account that just under 85,000 rapes were reported in the United States in 2010. So India, with about four times the population of the U.S., has fewer than a third as many rapes reported. There’s of course a risk of overgeneralizing here given that India is the second-largest country in the world, but given what we’ve heard about the culture of sexual violence there since the bus incident was reported, how many unreported rapes does all this extrapolate to? It’s difficult to even think about.

(And none of this is to say the U.S. doesn’t have its own problems with rape under-reporting.)

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.


  • jhm on December 29, 2012 11:39 AM:

    My first thought is to wonder what effect "honor" killing might have on reporting. Another is the idea that maybe it is de facto, if not de jure that husbands cannot rape their wives as far as the law is concerned in India. Another is the legal burden of proof for rape might make convictions so unlikely that reporting is not worth it.

  • gregor on December 29, 2012 11:39 AM:

    Indian police has been thoroughly corrupt for a very very long time. In most (more than 90%) cases they do not register any complaint of criminal activity. Even to get the complaint registered you have to either have some political or bureaucratic connection or pay someone.

    Even if they register a complaint, they do not normally act on it.

    Corruption has been in the DNA of the Indian culture for a very very long time.

  • c u n d gulag on December 29, 2012 12:01 PM:

    And the old USSR used to brag all of the time, how they had next to no rape.

    Those female comrade's who showed up at the hospital, all beat up?
    They fell down some steps - probably ones made by Trotskyites.

    And the female comrade's having abortions?
    No, none of them were raped!
    They were just making their male comrade's happy!
    And we need the rubber for the military.

    And that US female tourist, telling the police she was raped?
    A capitalist plot, to discredit the Soviet Utopia.
    And besides, that free market slut was either asking for it, or overcharging some glorious and hard-working Soviet male comrade, who slugged that Kulak whore with his kulak (Russian, for 'fist').

    I suspect there's a lot of cultural factors in India that are the reason for a lot of unreported rapes.

    After all, just because those females are "Untouchables," doesn't mean that they're 'Un-feckable.'

  • fostert on December 29, 2012 1:57 PM:

    Ninety percent of claims are rejected by the police and not reported. And ninety percent of victims won't go to the police for fear of shame. So, probably 99% of rapes in India are not reported. Compared to about 50% in the US. This is a huge problem in India, but nobody seems to care. And the religious authorities (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian) all want to blame the victim. And they cannot be criticized, lest you violate India's laws against defamation of religion. The problem here is that religion has way too much power in India. People make decisions on faith, not objective reality. And that decision? If she was raped, she deserved it.

  • Keith M Ellis on December 29, 2012 4:26 PM:

    Another aspect of the reporting that's bothersome is the assumption that the sharp rise of reported rapes in recent years directly reflects an increase in all rapes, which, in turn, is primarily and necessarily a function of social changes (old versus new, increased female autonomy) that both increase the opportunities for rape and (it's implied) the incentive.

    As opposed to considering the possibility that a large portion, or most, of the increase is due to increased reporting and not increased rape.

    This is extremely important because it signifies a bias toward a pessimistic and inherently (though covertly) anti-progressive notion that things are going to hell in a handbasket. This, intentionally or not, bolsters the argument by cultural conservatives that the fundamental problem is increased female autonomy, an abandonment of traditional values (read: respectful of women), and that the rapists are somehow themselves victims of corrupt social forces. That is to say, it's implicitly full-on reactionary and within the context of sexual violence against women, misogynist and rape-apologia.

    Admitting that an extremely patriarchal culture, where are traditionally effectively property, might have always had very high rights of sexual violence against women — indeed, that arranged marriages, child marriages, and such might themselves be forms of sexual violence against women — is anathema to the cultural conservatives and sexists, and frightening in its implications to everyone else. Easier, then, to have a moral panic about what is really the unwelcome awareness of something that's been happening all along, anyway.

    This is the history of the awareness of and prosecution of sexual violence against women in the west, but it's also a history repeated in many other contexts.

    Recently, for example, there is the scandal of sexual violence against children within the Catholic Church. There is little doubt that the institution itself is egregiously morally culpable — but there is great doubt (or should be) that it is unique as an institution in this respect and especially doubtful that wherever and whenever there's access, great power imbalance, and secrecy there are similar levels of sexual violence against children. Which, first and foremost, is within the family. These have implications that are, again, unwelcome to the cultural conservatives and frightening to everyone else and so, therefore, it is psychosocially the path of least resistance to focus on this one spot where the light has recently been aimed, imagining to ourselves that this is exceptional.

    I don't disbelieve that changing socioeconomic and cultural factors have increased the rate of sexual violence against women in India. But I feel certain that most of the rise of reported rapes is due simply to increased reporting, which is the result of changes that are welcome and progressive, not the sign that something is newly rotten. It's an old rot, newly revealed.

  • Philip Oldenburg on December 30, 2012 12:19 AM:

    This story in a reputable magazine has the virtue of relying on some carefully collected evidence:

    Clearly "90 percent" is a number pulled out of a hat, but if there are indeed some 250,000 cases of rape in India -- and as an India specialist I would not be surprised if that were the case -- that would translate to a rate roughly equal to that of the U.S. Again, not implausible.

  • Vinod Kirpalani on January 02, 2013 3:32 AM:

    Well if an estimate pulled out of the hat of 250,000 cases of rape is to be taken for India, then a figure of 2.5 x 85,000 should be taken for the US, as a 40% rate of reporting seems to be the concensus form searches I have done on the topic. Therefore adjusted for relative populations that would give the US a relative rate of rape cases 4.65 times that of India. So, use of words like uncicilized, epidemic and commments that "won't step foot in the country" would seem out of line, unless they are to be applied proportionaly to other countries equally. Lets not even mention other places that have statistics showing double or quadruple the US rate.