A call to knowledge: Let’s gather more data before rushing to action

By Poulami Roychowdhury

In a context like India, where law enforcement personnel are both perpetrators of sexual violence and have limited capacities to enforce legal rights, what should we actually do to counter rape? At the risk of resolving the practical dilemma with a call for academic inquiry, that is exactly what I am about to propose. Before devising more policies and interventions, we need more data and we need better data. The need for data gathering becomes self evident when we examine existing organizational efforts.

Transforming “rape culture” has become an increasingly popular strategy in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape of 2012. This approach is visible in media commentary about India’s “traditional” culture, satirical videos such as Rape: It’s Your Fault, and awareness building campaigns, such as Breakthrough’s efforts to “make violence against women unacceptable.” I have discussed elsewhere why the cultural turn in organizational efforts is dangerous in post-colonial, developing countries (Roychowdhury 2013). To summarize one of the main issues, cultural interventions are based on a number of assumptions that are tenuously linked to empirical data. These assumptions include the idea that sexual violence occurs because it is culturally “acceptable” and that certain cultures are more violent than others. The limited survey data we have available indicates, however, that on average, Indian women are less vulnerable to sexual violence than women in other countries. According to the Demographic Household Survey, 9% of Indian women have experienced violence versus 18.3% of American women (NFHS 2006). But to what extent these numbers emerge from “cultural” differences largely resides on guesswork. Continue reading “A call to knowledge: Let’s gather more data before rushing to action”