Delhi has lately gained infamy as the nation's "rape capital". In recent years, it has seen intense media and public outrage over certain gruesome rapes. Delhiites have grown fearful of their city and politicians are promising to make it safe for women. "When you go out to vote," Modi asked Delhiites last year, "keep in mind 'Nirbhaya' who became a victim of rape." All of this might suggest that a rape epidemic has broken out in Delhi's streets, alleys, and buses. Anyone trying to analyze the issue must at least ask: who are the rapists, where do they rape, and how common is rape in Delhi?
The latest data from Delhi Police shows that, as in other countries, the vast majority of rapes—96 percent in Delhi—are committed by men known to the victim, usually inside homes. Only 4 percent are committed by strangers (which are also more likely to be reported)—yet we fixate far more on this latter scenario and use it to argue that Delhi is unsafe for women to go out by themselves (click the image on the right). The brutal truth however is that we ought to worry far more about girls and women being around their male family members, relatives, and neighbors than around strangers. Sexual predators and molesters are not so much "out there" in the faceless crowd as they are among the familiar ones.
And what about the actual number of rapes in Delhi? The reported incidence (which is what drives the media and public fear and perception of this crime) is far lower than in every one of the 76 U.S. cities in this list (source: U.S. Department of Justice). Delhi has 4 rapes per 100K population vs. 107 in Minneapolis, 88 in Cleveland, 44 in Boston, 36 in Houston, etc. Western European cities are better than U.S. cities but not by much. By comparison, Delhi looks remarkably safe for women. These 76 U.S. cities also have correspondingly higher ratios of other violent crimes like murder, which are harder to hide.
Although reported cases of rape—and not unreported rapes—are what drive the media and public outrage over this crime, many still ask as soon as comparative data is trotted out: But isn't rape significantly underreported in India? Yes, as in every country, underreporting happens in India too, and likely more so than in the U.S. (especially for rapes by men known to the victim). Various studies have tried to estimate the extent of underreporting; they vary a lot because estimating actual incidence is tricky. Most estimates of underreporting range from 50-70 percent for U.S. cities, and up to 90 percent for Delhi. Taking the worst case for Delhi and the best case for U.S. cities, the actual number of rapes in Delhi becomes 10X more than reported, and in U.S. cities 2X more than reported. If we do the math, Delhi still registers a much lower incidence of rape than most of the 76 U.S. cities. But whatever the absolute number, strangers are responsible for only a small fraction of rapes and sexual molestation incidents in Delhi.
There is a well known phenomenon is human psychology that if one hears a great deal about a perceived threat or a malady, it begins to seem much larger in the mind, as with the threat of terrorism in the U.S. We also "think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates." A recent poll in the U.S. asked people to estimate the percentage of Muslims in the country. They estimated 15 percent, whereas the actual population of Muslims is 1 percent. That the Delhi media now talks a lot about rape is good for raising awareness and to improve response mechanisms (reporting of rape has risen by a third), but an unfortunate side-effect may be that it tends to make people think that "stranger rape" is the norm and its incidence is much greater than it is. People start feeling genuinely afraid, but not for sound, rational reasons. Our perceptions on social issues can get detached from reality quite easily, more easily perhaps with a market-driven media.
This isn't to say that Delhi, or India in general, is great for women. Not at all. Lots of problems plague Indian women, from female foeticide to nutritional, educational, labor, and other discriminations at every step. Law enforcement and judicial systems are not responsive enough to gender crimes, especially against women from marginalized communities. But in Delhi, we can start by rejecting the patriarchal, upper-class/caste media narrative about rape and the need to "protect" women from unwashed strangers in Delhi (which tends to focus only on the 4 percent of cases of strangers-as-perpetrators—and that too if privileged class women are the victims, not Dalits). Only then can we think of the right solutions for the other 96 percent. Check out the report below and other embedded links in this post.
In majority of rape cases reported in Delhi this year, the accused were known to the victims or their friends, followed by neighbours and relatives such as brother-in-law, uncle, husband or ex-husband and even father. Only 4.23 per cent of the alleged rapists were strangers. In an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court on Tuesday in compliance with its directions for “crime mapping” in sexual offences against women, the Delhi Police said the picture emerging from the analysis of cases registered till October 15 year had depicted that the majority of the accused were persons related or known to the victims in cases of rape, molestation and eve-teasing ... most of these incidents had occurred within the home and in most of the cases the accused were near relatives and acquaintances.
Read more here.