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Sexual Violence in India

Sexual violence is a major problem faced by women and girls in India. It is already a challenge for survivors to obtain justice in the Indian legal system, and those from the country’s marginalized communities face even more major barriers.

There were 32,033 reported rape cases in 2019, with 33,356 in 2018. According to official crime data, there were 3,486 reported cases of rape against Dalit (Scheduled Caste) women and girls in 2019, and 1,110 reported rape cases against Adivasi women and girls (Scheduled Tribes).

Survivors of sexual violence face huge barriers in accessing justice, including community pressure to drop the case, discriminatory attitudes of police and judicial officers, insufficient legal aid, and discouraging conviction rates. These challenges are often magnified if the survivors are members of India’s marginalized communities, particularly if they are Dalits, Adivasis, or Muslims.

Why do people commit sexual violence?  

Sexual violence is a crime rooted in control and patriarchy, including male entitlement. In India, society often still shifts blame onto survivors, shaming a survivor and her family into silence. This is especially true among those who are already marginalized within Indian society, leaving them particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. This culture of shame follows survivors into law enforcement, the court system, and hospitals, further silencing survivors’ voices.

What are the barriers to justice for survivors of sexual violence in India? 

Our 2021 report, Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors, found the implementation of rape laws remain poor and survivors, particularly those from communities marginalized based on caste, class, and ethnicity, face many obstacles in accessing justice, including:

  • corruption amongst law enforcement officials,
  • failure of the police to register cases of sexual violence,
  • the continued use of the two-finger test,
  • difficulties in accessing support services for survivors including compensation and victim and witness protection,
  • pressure from families, community and panchayat members to enter into extra-legal settlements and many others.

Learn more about barriers to justice for survivors in India in our 2020 report Justice Denied: Sexual Violence & Intersectional Discrimination – Barriers to Accessing Justice for Dalit Women and Girls in Haryana, India, and our 2021 report Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors.

What does the law in India say? 

One of the major gaps in rape laws in India is the failure to criminalize marital rape. Laws which explicitly allow marital rape under the law treat women as the property of their husbands and render them vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse within marriage. 

The law has a wide definition of rape which includes all acts of sexual penetration, as well as acts of oral sex (without a requirement for penetration). Indian law takes into account a broad range of coercive circumstances. Indian law presumes the absence of consent on the part of the victim in a broad range of circumstances such as rape by an individual in a position of authority, custodial rape, rape by a relative, guardian, teacher, person in a position of trust, or person in a position of control or dominance over a woman.

The law specifically provides that the previous sexual experience of the victim is not relevant in sexual violence cases. Indian law also has a specific provision prohibiting the defence from adducing evidence or asking questions in cross-examination relating to the general immoral character, or previous sexual experience, of the victim while proving consent or the quality of such consent.

What does international law say? 

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for Gender Equality and enumerates several targets, including: 

  • End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
  • Eliminating “ all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including sexual [violence]”
  • The adoption and strengthening of “sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.”

What is Equality Now doing about this? 

Equality Now aims to ensure our advocacy and communications are informed by the needs, experiences, and voices of women and children survivors who are of sexual violence and that all of our work is based on accurate information and evidence, as we work to help survivors in India identify the key obstacles they face in accessing justice.