Why Rape Seems Worse in India Than Everywhere Else (but Actually Isn’t)

Yes, the gang rapes have been shocking — but India's reputation as rape capital is undeserved

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Ajay Aggarwal / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Women shout slogans outside the District court in Saket as they call for the death penalty of the four men convicted of rape and murder on September 13, 2013 in New Delhi, India

Since the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi last year, India has become the world’s rape capital. An American website recently satirized the problem by joking about an upcoming rape festival in the country. You can call it a reflection of the way the world thinks of India or you can call it bad taste (depending on which part of the world you are in) — but you know the image of India as rape hell has stuck when most readers of the article failed to realize that it was satire. Rape is a serious problem all over the world. So why does it seem so much worse in India?

1. More rapes are being reported now: Along with the modernization of society, more Indian women are being educated and are going out to work. They are breaking out of the subservient mold that society had given to them and are more independent. While this means they are more likely to be sexually abused, it also means they are more likely — compared with women of a previous generation — to report rapes and confront sexual predators. In the three months after the Delhi gang rape, the number of rapes reported in the city more than doubled to 359, from the 143 reported in January-March of 2012. This doesn’t necessarily mean more rapes are happening now, just that more women are emboldened to come out and report.

2. India actually has a high conviction rate for rape: According to the Guardian, just 7% of reported rapes in the U.K. resulted in convictions during 2011-12. In Sweden, the conviction rate is as low as 10%. France had a conviction rate of 25% in 2006. Poor India, a developing nation with countless challenges, managed an impressive 24.2% conviction rate in 2012. That’s thanks to the efforts of a lot of good people — police, lawyers, victims and their families — working heroically with limited resources.

3. The media report everything: According to Dave Prager, the American author of Delirious Delhi, crimes that “wouldn’t garner even a sentence in an American paper because so many bigger crimes would elbow it out of the way” are obsessively reported in Indian news publications. Post the Delhi gang rape, Indian media have faithfully recorded each and every rape case, highlighted them for the world and continue to do so.

4. Most Indians, men and women, hate the reputation that rapists have given their country: No country in the world can claim to have witnessed protests against rape on the scale of India’s, where people turned out in the tens of thousands to voice their shock and sadness. It was people power that forced the government to change existing rape laws and drew the world’s attention to the problem. What happens in other countries? This may not be a typical example, but the rape of a teen girl by high school football players in the Steubenville, Ohio had many in the town sympathizing with the rapists and not the victim.