Western experience

Print edition : January 25, 2013

THE rape and assault of the young paramedical student is not merely a case of backward mindsets. Capitalist processes produce such violence even in societies that have no history of caste distinctions, Sati, dowry practices or purdah, like in India.

In the United States, according to a 2010 survey by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention titled “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey” (NISVS), rape was more common than smoking. Author Stephanie Kovalchik writes that the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of sexual violence. The findings suggest that nearly one in five women is a victim of rape, defined as unwanted, completed or attempted sexual penetration, including victims who did not have the capacity to give consent (owing to intoxication, for example). In almost all cases, the perpetrator was someone the victim knew (91.9 per cent) and most often was her own partner. The report says that young adulthood is the period of highest risk for first sexual victimisation. For 80 per cent of the female victims the first rape occurred before age 25 and for 42 per cent before age 18. The study estimated that in 2010, 1.27 million women were raped, equivalent to one woman every 29 seconds, and 5.1 million were stalked, equivalent to one woman every seven seconds.

According to a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, “Understanding and addressing sexual violence against women”, the best-quality prevalence data on sexual violence come from population-based surveys. The report says that “other sources of data on sexual violence include police reports and studies from clinical settings and non-governmental organisations; however, because only a small proportion of cases are reported in these settings, they produce underestimates of prevalence. For example, a Latin American study estimated that only around 5 per cent of adult victims of sexual violence reported the incident to the police.”

According to a WHO report, surveys have found that 40-50 per cent of the women in the European Union report some form of sexual harassment or unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace. The report advocates a public health approach to dealing with violence instead of looking at the criminal justice system alone.

Legal reforms suggested by the report include strengthening and expanding laws defining rape and sexual assault, sensitising and training the police and judges about sexual violence, and improving the application of existing laws. Women’s organisations in India have been making similar demands for several years.

T.K. Rajalakshmi