Scope of the Problem
Violence against women and girls are very serious crimes. They pose a major public health problem and are a gross violation of women’s human rights. The United Nations definition describes violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
It can include
- domestic abuse
- sexual violence and rape
- stalking and harassment
- trafficking of women
- female genital mutilation
- intimidation and harassment at work, in education or in public
- forced prostitution
- forced marriage
These crimes have a tremendous impact on economy, health services, and the criminal justice system. Estimates published by WHO indicate that 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
White Christian counties
For the purpose of this exercise, we have selected some of the most progressive liberal and powerful democracies in the world as measured by Democracy Index published by The Economist. Countries are rated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highest. The score is arrived at after evaluating parameters like electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.
We have selected 21 countries from this list which we classify as white Christian countries or countries where the population is primarily of white European stock and adhere to Christianity. This includes many European countries, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The list of the countries and their Democracy indices are presented below.
We will compare sexual violence and rape statistics of these countries with India, scaled by population and by adjusting for under-reporting.
Violence against women in White Christian countries
Contrary to popular belief of being safe havens for women, countries like United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia and many Western European countries are in fact facing severe human rights crisis as they are unable to curb or deal with increased violence against women.
Forty-three per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.  In 2015, the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls in England and Wales reached a record level and the director of public prosecutions blamed it on increased use of social media.
Two women are killed by their partner every week in England and Wales. Of all female homicides, 40% are killed by gendered violence. The UK police receive a call every minute about domestic abuse, 89% of which are about a woman being abused by a man. 23,000 girls under 15 are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) every year in the UK. An estimated 66,000 women living in England and Wales have been subject to FGM. FGM was made illegal in 1985, but so far there have been no convictions in UK.
Rape Culture of White Christian countries
A survey in Luxembourg found that 38% of people polled in a Luxembourg survey believed that rape could be justifiable under certain circumstances. The shocking findings reported in the European Commission’s Special Barometer 449 were criticized by European gender rights groups calling for urgent and far-reaching awareness-raising.
Contrary to popular perception that rape is an imported phenomena and mainly committed by Muslim immigrants, an article suggests that Germany’s rape culture is deeply rooted in their collective psyche.
More than 1 in 4 women in Washington DC, United States, have experienced some form of sexual harassment on public transportation, according to a survey conducted in 2016.  According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes crimes that were not reported to the police, 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006 which translates to more than 600 women every day. In US, the Justice Department estimates that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years.
“Rape Culture” is an integral feature of campuses of US universities. It is a term commonly used in US policy documents. Given the pervasive nature of violent sexual crimes in US universities, in 2014 the White House intervened by setting up a task force to investigate 139 universities, including Harvard, Cornell, Brown and Stanford.
According to a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden which have often been dubbed as feminist utopias, in fact have disproportionately high rates of Intimate Partner Violence against women. Sweden has amongst the highest reported rapes per capita at 63.5 out of 100,000 of population which is 35 times more than that of India which has 1.8 rapes reported out of 100,000.
A student union leader at the University of Ottawa highlighted “rape culture” in Canadian campuses and how student leaders perpetuated that within their own circles.
Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year. An estimated 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. In 2015-16, the number of offences against women, including domestic abuse, rape and sexual assaults, rose by almost 10% to 117,568. Britain has been described as having a notorious rape culture which has been increasing in an alarming way amongst UK students and young people over the years. Numerous popular websites seem to support rape and slut-shaming, and directly and indirectly encourage sexual assault.
‘And this disguising of misogyny and rape culture as ‘banter’ isn’t only to be found online. Earlier this year, the Imperial College newspaper Felix published a ‘joke’ article providing male students with a recipe for the date rape drug rohypnol, as “a fool proof way” to have sex on Valentine’s day “for cheaper than the price of a hooker”.’
It is clear that rape culture is an integral component of white Christian society in Europe, Australia and USA.
Now let us turn our attention to India.
Is India a horrible place for women?
India is often accused of being a major human rights violator, especially where women are concerned. India has been accused of the largest-scale human rights violation on Earth: the persistent degradation of the vast majority of its 650 million girls and women. Being born a girl in India is considered dangerous and although the law protects women’s rights there’s still a patriarchal society that devalues women as human beings and numerous women have to face daily violence. The United Nations in India strongly condemned cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the back-drop of the alleged gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua district in Jammu and a 17-year-old girl in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.
So vehement is the condemnation and accusation that it is affecting the opportunity of many Indian males globally. In 2015, a German university professor apparently rejected an Indian student’s application for internship citing the “rape problem in India” as reason. The email read: “Unfortunately I don’t accept any Indian male students for internships. We hear a lot about the rape problem in India which I cannot support. I have many female students in my group, so I think this attitude is something I cannot support.”
In fact according to a report by Wire, while the official rape figures of India, scaled to population are quite low, once adjusted for underreporting, India would be among the nations with highest levels of crimes against women.
Is the situation really that horrible? Is India truly the rape capital of the world? Is India the most dangerous country for women? According to BBC, Indian women face threats to life at every stage – violence, inadequate healthcare, inequality, neglect, bad diet, lack of attention to personal health and well-being. Is that really the case?
The best way to judge is to look at data. That too, it must not be looked in isolation but in comparative terms. To ensure that the comparison is not lop-sided, comparison of India’s statistics on violence against women will be made with those of the so-called White Christian countries, and not with other third world or developing countries.
Under Reporting of Sexual Crimes
A major problem that policy makers and law enforcement agencies face is the severe under-reporting of sexual crimes. Under-reporting varies anywhere between 70% and 95%.
In Sweden, as many as 80% of all rapes are not reported, which was confirmed in a 2014 study of the extent of violence against women, funded by the Government of Sweden and the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority. In France, a study conducted by France’s National Observatory on Crime and Criminal Justice Responses (ONDRP) found that nine out of 10 sexual assaults in the French capital go unreported. In Norway, a study by Siri Thoresen at the National Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) shows that 89% of rape cases are unreported.
In Iceland, female sexual offences are greatly under-reported. According to a US State report, the main reason for under-reporting in Iceland is that the burden of proof in rape cases is too heavy and discouraged victims from reporting. In Denmark, studies indicate that only between 5 and 10 per cent of all sexual offences are reported. In Finland, fewer than 10% of sexual assault cases are reported, as per an Amnesty international report.
According to a survey 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual assault in UK. Only 24% cases of domestic violence are actually reported, say Women’s Aid. In Germany, 95% of sexual violence cases are not reported to the authorities.
In US more than 90% of rape cases remain unreported. The Justice Department estimates that less than five percent of women experiencing rape or attempted rape report to the authorities. A study by the National Research Council, found that rape is grossly underreported in the U.S. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) counted 188,380 victims of rape and sexual assault in 2010, the FBI counted only 85,593 in 2010 while Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, counted nearly 1.3 million incidents that same year.
In Canada, less than 1 in 5 or around 18% women report sexual assaults to the police. In Ireland, a study by Rape Crisis Centres indicate that 65% of survivors had not previously reported to any formal authority, i.e. gardaí, doctors etc.. According to an expert specializing in gender violence, between 70% and 80% of rapes in Spain are not reported. In Malta, most rape cases are not reported.  According to a 2001 study, vast majority (78 per cent) of violent attacks remained unreported in Estonia.
According to figures issued by the Australian Institute of Criminology, an estimated 70 per cent of sexual assaults incidents are not reported to police. In New Zealand only about ten out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported.
In India, an estimated 99% of sexual violence cases are not reported, according to a survey conducted by National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16. The National Crime Records Bureau report of 2006 estimated that about 71% rape crimes go unreported. According to some experts, over 90% of rape and sexual crime cases go unreported. We take the average of these 3 estimates and arrive at an estimate of 87% under-reporting. In fact, one major problem in India is the large number of false rape cases. A six month study by The Hindu revealed that 65% of all reported rape cases in Delhi courts were bogus cases. However for the purpose of our study we will be conservative and continue to treat all reported cases in India (including the bogus ones) as genuine.
We present the country-wise under-reporting data below. For some countries like Switzerland, Netherlands etc., estimates of unreported rape cases are not available.
|Country||Under-reporting of sexual crimes/ rapes|
|White Christian Countries Average||83%|
The average under-reporting of White Christian countries of 83% is therefore not that different from India’s 86%. Hence it cannot be considered an important factor in explaining differences between India and white Christian countries.
We now put together all this data and normalize for under-reporting. The five columns in the below table are:
- democracy index
- Reported rapes per 100,000 of population
- Estimated degree of under-reporting of sexual crimes
- Revised estimates after adjusting for underreporting
|Country||Democracy Index||Rapes reported per 100,000||Under-reporting||Revised Estimates per 100,000|
|White Christian Countries||8.74||16.4||83%||142.5|
White Christian countries, with an average democracy index of 8.74 are ahead of India whose democracy index is 7.23. However they are also way-ahead of India in terms of per-capita rape. India has reported rape per 100,000 population of 1.8 while White Christian countries have a reported rape per 100,000 population of 16.4.
After adjusting for under-reporting, India has reported rape per 100,000 population of 12.9 while White Christian countries have a reported rape per 100,000 population of 142.5, which is 9x more than India.
Therefore it is obvious that the white Christian countries which include USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many European countries are extremely unsafe for women and have high levels of sexual crimes against women including violence, sexual assaults and rapes. Rape culture is pervasive in these countries as indicated by data and reports from those countries themselves and from numerous independent reports. India on the other hand has 90% less cases of rapes as compared to white Christian countries.
Yet mainstream media in India as well as major foreign media networks and academic institutes would like us to believe that India is extremely unsafe for women. Clearly this distortion and misinformation campaign is intentional and driven by a nefarious anti-India and Hinduphobic forces and must be dealt with firmly and in a factual data-driven way.
 “Democracy Index 2017 – Economist Intelligence Unit” (PDF). EIU.com. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
 Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. It is common among Muslims.
 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (2016). Understanding Sexual Harassment on Public Transportation, in UN Women (2017), Corporate Brief Safe Cities and Safe Public Spaces.
 Bureau of Justice Statistics (table 2, page 15), Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2006 Statistical Tables
 “Statistics : Crime : Sexual Violence (see second tab of spreadsheet)”. Unodc.org. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
 “Case Closed: Rape And Human Rights in Nordic Countries” (PDF). Amnesty International. 2010.
 National Institute of Justice (pages 6-7), Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It (PDF)http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic_violence_topic.asp?section=0001000100220041§ionTitle=Domestic+violence+(general)
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay is from a data science background and his research interest includes history, religion and philosophy. He is the author of “The Complete Hindu’s Guide to Islam” and “Ashoka the Ungreat”.