Friday, 3 May 2013

The Underreporting of Sexual Assaults and Violent Acts

Sexual assaults and violent acts are chronically underreported around the world, which is unfortunate because a lack of reporting translates into a lack of resources and programs, a lack of understanding of how rampant these issues are, the promotion of rape culture, and a lack of policy making. Prof. Walter DeKeseredy writes, "Perhaps one of the most important [reasons for lack of changes in policies] is that policy-makers tend to listen only to big numbers. Unfortunately, if government officials are led by some survey researchers... to believe that violence against women is not a statistically significant issue, they are not likely to devote sufficient resources to prevent and control one of Canada's most pressing social problems." (1)

We see evidence of an increase in reporting in the Middle East and in Asia. 
The recent, very public and horrifyingly brutal gang rape of a woman in December 2012 by half a dozen men was certainly a turning point in India. Thousands of protesters hit the streets in the days after her death on December 29, 2012 to push the government to make changes, and to hold police accountable for their ineffectiveness and their lackluster attempts to stop the rape epidemic. 

In New Delhi just this past month, two 5-year old girls were raped (and one was tortured) by two men, which follows the rape of two foreign women (one Swiss, one British). Tourism has steadily declined to India by Western women due to widespread and well-founded fears. 

But is this a new epidemic? Of course not. The difference now is that more women are reporting crimes in the Middle East and Asia, and the media is being forced to listen to women speaking up and demanding better policies and better policing practices. This is a huge step forward, and one that North American women can certainly take a cue from, because we are still a far cry away from where we should be in terms of this same problem. In fact, 1 in 3 (2) women in Canada will experience sexual assault, though we know that those numbers are likely higher because most women (young women, in particular) choose to tell no one. Part of the problem for underreporting stems from our narrow definition of what "violence" encompasses.  DeKeseredy argues, "Narrow definitions not only exacerbate the problem of underreporting, but they also trivialize women's feelings and experiences." (3) , 

Changes in policies, the number of programs available to women who experience violence and/or sexual assault and our whole culture's attitude towards rape culture can be shifted, but the changes must occur from the ground-up for anyone to notice. If you ever experience an act of violence or sexual assault, it is in not only your own best interest to report it, but it's in the interests of every woman out there. We are seeing progress all the time, including in Saudia Arabia (, and in Egypt ( it is imperative that we continue to progress in our policies, but progress even further in our thinking about what is acceptable and what is not. 

(1) DeKeseredy, Walter S. Violence Against Women: Myths, Facts, Controversies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011, p. 7

(2) Ontario Women's Directorate. "Statistics."

(3) DeKeseredy, p. 7.

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