The recent sexual assaults in India have been receiving significant international attention, and led many to question why India has such a widespread problem with sexual assault. However, the cases in India are part of an international problem: whatever criticism we might provide as Americans of their national policies on sexual assault we could undoubtedly apply to our own culture of violence against women.
There have been protests in Delhi since reports emerged that a 7-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at school. A quarter of all sexual assaults reported in India occur in Delhi. This outcry comes only a few months after the murder and rape of three sisters from the state of Maharashtra, which provoked national riots and uproar in Parliament at the slow state of investigation. The attacks, and the public concern about these issues, has led to the discussion of criminalization of behavior like stalking. It has also directly led to harsher punishments for rapists, including twenty years in prison and consideration of the death penalty. While sexual assault in India is an incredible problem, one that requires broadly based solutions, the people of India are making their voices heard and trying to solve this critical problem through domestic advocacy.
Expressing outrage at an epidemic of sexual assault anywhere on the planet is certainly laudable, but Americans horrified by the incidents of rape and the lack of accountability for perpetrators in India should perhaps look within their own national borders.
As CNBC reports, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 5 American women will be raped in her lifetime, and the U.S. Department of Justice reports more than 300,000 American women are raped each year. In 2011, India, a country whose population is four times greater than the United States, had 12 times fewer reported rapes." The lack of accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault in the United States is just as close to the egregious standards of India: when condemning the inaction of Indian law enforcement, the Steubenville case should not be far from our national memory. In Steubenville, an Ohio girl was raped by members of the high school football team and was threatened anonymously for speaking out; authorities only conducted an investigation under considerable strain.
When considering why so many in the United States are particularly horrified by the sexual assaults that have occurred in India, there is more than a tinge of implicit racism. Many American analysts have written about the "patriarchical culture" of India that allows for such sexual assault to go unchecked. However, this condemnation of Indian culture (which inaccurately assumes homogeny) ignores that sexual assault occurs everywhere, supposed "patriarchical culture" or not.
A powerful editorial in The Hindu asks Indians to think about how much they contribute to rape: this is an international imperative. Globally, more women between the ages of 15-44 are killed as a result of gender-based violence than cancer, car accidents, malaria and war combined, according to World Bank and CNBC. The incidents in India are part of a culture that must be challenged all over the world.