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Rape: An Underreported Crime

[Source: Arrows for Change, September 1998]

Statistics on the incidence of rape are usually based on available police records. More often, these are inaccurate and not a true representation of the problem, for cultural and social stigmatisation associated with rape act as significant barriers to women reporting rape. Furthermore, women are more likely not to report rape if there is little support from their families, law enforcement agencies and the health sector.

In the Asia-Pacific region, national statistics on rape for many countries are difficult to obtain. Table 1 highlights the extent of the problem in the respective countries which could well include a significant rise in the different kinds of rape, such as gang rape, police rape and rape of the young. In Bangladesh for example, in 1997, an estimated 753 cases of rape had been reported, out of which 255 cases were gang rapes. There has also been incidence of women in detention being raped by police personnel. In Malaysia, 55.85 per cent of rapes (1,323 cases) in the same year involved under 16-year olds. In the Philippines, it is estimated that a rape occurs every day and that half of the inmates on death row are rapists.

Table 1. Rape Situation in Selected Countries of the Region

Country Reported cases of Rape (1997) Legislative reforms on rape Rape crisis services/centers available
Bangladesh 753b Noa Yesb
Fiji 18c Noa Yesa
Japan 1854d Noe Yese
Lao PDR 48f Nof Yesf
Malaysia 1323g Yesa Yesa
Philippines 794 (Jan-Apr)h Yesh Yesa
Thailand 140 (Jan-Aug)h in processi Yesi

Figure 1. Conducive Factors which Increase Women's Willingness to Report Rape

  • Laws protecting confidentiality and disclosure of survivor's name
  • Public education about acquaintance rape
  • Expanding counseling and advocacy services
  • Accessibility of abortion services for rape survivors
  • Mandatory HIV/AIDS testing for those indicted for rape
  • Confidentiality from testing for HIV/AIDS or STDs

Source: National Victims Centre and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. 1992. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. p. 11.

Information such as rape incidence is vital, for any type of intervention to take place. However, the flipside is that rape is considered an offence only when it is reported and in many instances, it goes unreported. So why are women still unable or unwilling to seek help? Figure 1 illustrates some of the factors that may encourage women who have been raped to come forward with their cases. In order to address rape, the concerns of rape survivors have to taken seriously. Police personnel, religious authorities and health workers need to be sensitised in dealing with rape survivors. Already in some countries, government organisations and NGOs have taken the initiative to set up crisis centres for rape survivors in collaboration with the different sectors of the community. Moreover, countries which have recently passed laws or reformed their penal codes to broaden the definition of rape (which includes marital rape), have done so as an outcome of the lobbying efforts of women's groups. The challenge to make sure that the law is not prejudicial against women remains, and that the law is properly enforced to ensure the protection of women. By providing suitable legal support and health services, it is hoped that the responsibility of dealing with rape would fail on society rather than on women, and survivors would then feel encouraged to come forward to report rape.

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