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Will India Truly Confront Its Rapists?

By Lisa Beyer
December 28, 2012 4:53 PM EST

Before the 23-year-old student gang-raped and bludgeoned on a New Delhi bus died in a Singapore hospital, her brain and lungs bashed, her intestines ripped out of her body, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh swore the country would bring her attackers to justice.

Six men are in custody. But it will be a shame if that's all that comes of the atrocity. Seeking to calm violent demonstrations in the Indian capital, Singh said his government would review punishments for rape and related crimes against women. Yet it hardly matters what laws are on the books if rapists have little reason to fear prosecution.

That, sadly, is the state of affairs in India, where few rapes are ever reported. United Nations figures show 63 rapes annually per 100,000 people in Sweden, 29 in the U.K. , 27 in the U.S. And in India? Just 1.8.

One reason that Indian victims opt for silence was illustrated just a few days after the bus rape, when a 17-year-old girl in Punjab killed herself. For a month, she'd been trying to convince police to investigate her complaint that she'd been gang-raped. One officer urged her to marry one of her assailants. Finally, she swallowed a different kind of poison.

To curtail rape, India must make punishment both more certain and more severe. To ensure that victims can safely report the crime, the government should follow the guidance of the World Health Organization and establish one-stop centers where complainants can file charges and receive medical care and counseling. Procedures, including forensic exams, should be standardized across the country, and doctors, police, prosecutors and judges should be trained to respect the rights of victims.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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