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Why Women in India Still Don’t Report Sexual Assault

Police in India’s tech-hub Bangalore said Friday they were still investigating wide-ranging media reports that a number of women were molested during street celebrations on New Year’s Eve, but that still no victims had come forward to register cases.

On Thursday, city police commissioner Praveed Sood said in a news conference that after reviewing security-camera footage from the city’s business district, officers “could not find any sign of molestation.”

Mr. Sood told journalists Thursday that police had registered four cases “suo moto,” based on the accounts of four women published on social media, newspapers and television channels.

“Justice can’t be delivered by making statements to newspaper,” he said, urging women to come forward and report the crime.

The recording of crimes against women in India, including rape, domestic violence and abuse, has risen in recent years, partly because more women are contacting police. The country was galvanized by the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in 2012, which set off nationwide protests and led to stricter laws.

But campaigners say women in India are still resistant to reporting sexual assaults.

The reluctance is often because women fear they will be blamed by people around them for what happened, said Kavita Krishnan, a women’s rights campaigner.

On Tuesday, as calls for police action grew, G. Parameshwara, home minister of Bangalore’s state of Karnataka, told journalists a “large number of youngsters” had gathered in the city center. “And youngsters who are almost like westerners. They try to copy the Western, not only in their mindset but even the dressing. Some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”

After facing criticism over those words, on Thursday, Mr. Parameshwara said that his statement was “interpreted out of context” and “not taken in its entirety.”

Ms. Krishnan said victims of sexual assault didn’t always trust their claims would be taken seriously. “If you create a climate of disbelief, then they are not going to report,” she said.

They might also be fearful of the social consequences of reporting an assault. “They are thrown out of their homes or told, ‘If you make noise about it, our family name will be maligned’,” said Lalitha Kumaramangalam, chairman of India’s National Commission for Women.

India still has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the world, with men significantly outnumbering women, the result of selective abortion, infanticide and neglect. Girls suffer disproportionately from malnutrition and are less likely to be in school. Activists say that some women aren’t informed about their rights.

“Many women are not aware that if they come to report assault, then a complaint must be registered and it can be done at any police station,” said Ms. Kumaramangalam.

In some parts of India, activists say rape victims have been asked to undergo a controversial and invasive medical test to determine if they were a virgin and are pressured into identifying their attacker before they are ready.

If women do get as far as reporting the crime a person is charged, they face a long judicial process that can last years.

“Women don’t have the social and economic wherewithal to bear this,” Ms. Kumaramangalam said.

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(via WSJ)