After the abundance of news stories covering rape in the U.S. just in the past week alone, it’s impossible to ignore the ever-pressing issue that never seems to improve. Recent statistics aim to show that rates of rape are higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries. The remaining issue, however, is simply that the reported number of rapes in any country create statistics that are likely to be far from accurate despite reports.
Recent stories in the U.S. include two women accusing 10 to 12 juveniles in Delaware of gang-raping them in a park in Wilmington. Rapper Sean Kingston just settled a $5 million lawsuit in which a fan, Carissa Capeloto, 22, accused Kingston and his bodyguard of raping her in a hotel room after a Justin Bieber concert. A Montana teacher accused of raping a student was just given what many perceive as a light sentence by Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh; the sentence infuriated many throughout the state and country that the judge is being pressured to resign. And three students in the American Naval Academy are being accused of raping a fellow student after a party–the largest military case on sexual violence since Obama has been in office. In India, a recent sentence for six men accused of raping a 23-year-old female has led to an outrage because one of the rapists was 17 at the time of the crime and therefore received a light sentence compared to the rest.
The recent statistics comparing India and the U.S. imply higher rates here in the U.S., but the actual facts don’t quite add up. In 2012, over 24,000 cases of rape in India were reported, calculating approximately two rapes per every 100,000 people. In the U.S., the chance of a person being raped is reported to be 13 times more likely. But the severe discrepancy between the two countries isn’t exactly a mystery, as local surveys in Indian through the past 25 years revealed approximately 1 to 4 percent of Indian women acknowledged having been raped–which brings the rate of rape in India to between 50 and 200 times greater than reported by the Indian government.
Is it ever possible to assess accurately the number of rates occurring in any country? Officials on the subject say no.
Criminologists also refer to the immense number of rapes that go unreported as the “dark figure,” because the number is expected to be frighteningly large. The other issue within the statistics collected is that some countries make a deliberate effort to motivate victims of rape to speak up and report any incidents, while other countries may actually pressure victims to keep quiet, eventually causing the more motivating and encouraging countries to appear to have a larger issue of rape compared to others.
According to information from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Sweden, for example, experienced a dramatic increase in incidence of rape in 2004, and while it is clear that citizens of that country are more likely to come forward and report the crime, the dramatic increase still raises questions. The U.S. has seen a very slight decrease in reported rape over the past few years, while India and Canada have remained relative low and steady.
“Comparing countries can be very misleading, particularly for a crime like rape,” explained Chief Angela Me of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She adds, “This doesn’t mean Sweden has more rape than other countries,” and confirmed that citizens of Sweden do indeed “have a very high level of consciousness about what is rape and [that] they need to report it.”
When comparing rape to homicide, Chief Me explained that hiding the evidence of a murder is not nearly as easy as hiding the evidence of a rape or sexual assault. The evidence of a homicide usually includes a dead body, whereas victims of rape can watch their own claims be destroyed in a trial and dismissed based on lack of physical evidence or faulty character, etc.
Another issue arises in the way alleged victims of rape are interviewed and the words used by interviewers to illicit a clear report from victims. Comparing two different surveys, one from 2011 and one from 2010, revealed that when asking victims if they were “raped,” there were approximately 250,000 reports in 2011. The 2010 study asked alleged victims by using the phrase “with or without consent” around sexual activity, which lead to about 1.3 million reports of rape throughout the prior year.
Sociologist Ronet Bachman is encouraging the development of a standard group of questions be adopted consistently across the country to gain more consistent reporting and more accurate statistics. Bachman recently reported a paper to the CDC panel on the history of rape in the United States, but acknowledges that there many hurdles to implementing a standardized set of questions, including cost.
The solution seems painfully unclear. Even if rates of rape were reported more accurately, that doesn’t mean any particular country would know how to lessen the incidence of the crime.
Written by Ginger Vieira