Educate me on these crime statistics
January 13, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

The Wikipedia page on statistics about rape shows a very high crime rate for countries like UK, US and Australia in stark contrast to, say, India. The gap can't be explained simply by under-reporting, as that exists in all these countries (even assuming different rates of under-reporting). Is it because these countries have different definitions of rape? Or something else?

I want to understand this because in my personal experience, India is far less safe for women than, say, UK and Australia (haven't been to the US yet), but these numbers are so far from what I would have expected that I am having a hard time explaining them to myself. The whole thing has been prompted by the recent high-profile cases of rape in India, and the ensuing discussions about them in my social circle.
posted by vidur to Law & Government (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Rape may be under reported in India relative to the US, UK, and Australia.
posted by dfriedman at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Strongly patriarchal cultures like rural India have extremely low reporting rates for rape, because admitting to having been raped generally renders a woman unmarry-able for life. In the case of married women, reporting having been raped is both cultural grounds for divorce and for punishment for adultery.
posted by monotreme at 4:50 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The gap can't be explained simply by under-reporting

Sure it can. Rape is massively under reported in many nations compared to Europe or the USA or Australia. I don't know why you discarded the possibility of different rates of under-reporting because that's almost certainly the answer.
posted by Justinian at 4:57 PM on January 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

It's probably like voting. If people don't vote, it's because they don't think it makes a difference. With rape, if nothing happens after reporting a rape – or worse, something bad happens – it will reduce reporting.

When someone reports something, they report it for a reason. For something favourable to happen. An arrest. Protection. Prosecution. Public shaming. Visibility. If there's not any of that (which often in India, there isn't), what is the motivation to report?
posted by nickrussell at 4:59 PM on January 13, 2013

The gap can't be explained simply by under-reporting...

I'm wondering why you think this—as it (i.e., under-reporting) seems the most likely explanation to me.
posted by she's not there at 5:00 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This news story from the BBC talks about the difficulties of comparing crime rates (especially for rape) across different countries.

Here are some relevant parts:
Which two countries are the kidnapping capitals of the world?

Australia and Canada.

Official figures from the United Nations show that there were 17 kidnaps per 100,000 people in Australia in 2010 and 12.7 in Canada.

That compares with only 0.6 in Colombia and 1.1 in Mexico.

So why haven't we heard any of these horror stories? Are people being grabbed off the street in Sydney and Toronto, while the world turns a blind eye?

No, the high numbers of kidnapping cases in these two countries are explained by the fact that parental disputes over child custody are included in the figures.

Sweden has the highest rape rate in Europe, author Naomi Wolf said on the BBC's Newsnight programme recently. She was commenting on the case of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who is fighting extradition from the UK to Sweden over rape and sexual assault allegations that he denies.

Is it true? Yes. The Swedish police recorded the highest number of offences - about 63 per 100,000 inhabitants - of any force in Europe, in 2010. The second-highest in the world.

This was three times higher than the number of cases in the same year in Sweden's next-door neighbour, Norway, and twice the rate in the United States and the UK. It was more than 30 times the number in India, which recorded about two offences per 100,000 people.

Evidently, women in some countries are much less likely to report an attack than in others and are much less likely to have their complaint recorded. UN statistician Enrico Bisogno says surveys suggest that as few as one in 10 cases are ever reported to the police, in many countries.

"We often present the situation as kind of an iceberg where really what we can see is just the tip while the rest is below the sea level. It remains below the radar of the law enforcement agencies," he says.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 5:04 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The reason I doubted that under-reporting is the main reason was because there seems to be plenty of under-reporting in US/UK/Aus as well. There have been a large number of threads discussing sexual assault and rape on the Blue, and that's the impression I carry.

UK's rate according to the WP page is 28.8. India stands at 1.8. Assume a 90% reporting rate for UK, and 10% reporting rate for India, and the numbers change to 32 (UK) and 18 (India). Still a wide gap, so I thought there must be more to this than just that.

To be clear, I am not ruling out under-reporting completely. I understand that it plays a role.
posted by vidur at 5:11 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: In the case of married women, reporting having been raped is both cultural grounds for divorce and for punishment for adultery.

I don't know about the divorce bit, but the second bit is certainly not true for India. You are probably confusing India with one of the Islamic countries with Sharia law.
posted by vidur at 5:13 PM on January 13, 2013

This list[17] indicates the number of, and per capita cases of recorded rape. It does not include cases of rape which go unreported, or which are not recorded.[18] Nor does it specify whether recorded means reported, brought to trial, or convicted. Nor does it take the different definition of rape around the world into account.

The page itself explains the variance. You're comparing apples and oranges by at least three measures.
posted by gerryblog at 5:23 PM on January 13, 2013

Assume a 90% reporting rate for UK, and 10% reporting rate for India, and the numbers change to 32 (UK) and 18 (India). Still a wide gap, so I thought there must be more to this than just that.

The reporting rate for India could be 1%. It could be 0.1%. That's the issue.
posted by Justinian at 5:23 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are underestimating just how underreported something can be.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I didn't explain myself clearly. I am quite certain that the numbers for India are much higher than US/UK etc. One only needs to take a walk in Delhi to understand that. And I do indeed know the general list of reasons for why the numbers are so different from reality.

However, I am looking for something more specific to educate myself. Are there survey numbers on under-reporting in these countries? Has someone done a study on how the law defines rape in different countries? Something that sheds more light on this than just the dismissive "under-reporting". My vague google searches aren't giving me anything better than unhelpful media reports.
posted by vidur at 5:44 PM on January 13, 2013

Why do you think "underreporting" is "dismissive"?

Comparing statistics among countries is famously hard, whether it be for rapes or live births or death rates, or whatever other statistic you can come up with. This is due to varying reasons, depending on the nature of the statistic in question and how/if cultural influences affect numbers in a given country. It seems reasonable to assume that India's culture is such, relative to the US, UK, and Australia, that its rapes are underreported.
posted by dfriedman at 6:07 PM on January 13, 2013

I think you have find out what these numbers mean in each country. For example, that table shows 91.9 rapes per 100,000 people in Australia in 2003 and suddenly it plummets to to 6.4 in 2006 (with no 2004 or 2005 data). The number of rapes dropped by a factor of 10, too, so that's not a typo. In all likelihood, Australia changed what number they reported (perhaps they reported convictions rather than reports to the police--IIRC in Britain something like 12% of rapes reported to the police result in a conviction--many aren't prosecuted and the conviction rate is bad for those that are), rather than the number of rapes dropping dramatically or people ceasing to report rapes.
posted by hoyland at 6:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are probably confusing India with one of the Islamic countries with Sharia law.

Vidur, there are 160 million Muslims living in India. And why are you arguing with people who are giving you answers?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

However, I am looking for something more specific to educate myself.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes does some thinking about this. You could find it useful to read over how they try to put together a methodology and how they conduct their crime surveys.
posted by kithrater at 6:26 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I don't mean to thread-sit or to be argumentative. This is not a subject that I know much about, so I would appreciate links to sources that can provide me a better understanding than just some broad categories of reasons. As in, if there is under-reporting, how do I find out how much under-reporting is there in India and in other countries? Surely there have been surveys. If the definitions differ, how do I compare the definitions? Surely someone has written papers on it.

On the Sharia bit, that's just factually incorrect. Having a large number of Muslims in India does not mean that Indian Criminal Law does not apply to them and that Sharia law is applicable in rape cases.
posted by vidur at 6:37 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

For instance, if you go to the National Crime Records Bureau for India and click "Crime Statistics" in the lower right (I can't get a direct link--the website's weird), rape is listed, but there's also a category called 'crimes against women', which includes 'cruelty by husband and relatives', and would be one place to look for 'missing' rapes, I should think, given how many rapes involve people known to the victim.

For example, here's a random news story. The situation described may or may not count in the rape statistics in the US (I don't know what 'unnatural sex' means), but it doesn't count towards India's rape statistics.

This article suggests a man can only be charged with the rape of his wife if the wife is under 16. Rapes by spouses are likely even more underreported than rapes in general, but some are reported.
posted by hoyland at 6:39 PM on January 13, 2013

I'm not meaning to pile on here, but that poster never mentioned "law", they said that adultery gives "cultural grounds" for punishment. This is absolutely true in many parts of India and definitely not restricted to the country's Muslim population, on a cultural level.
posted by smoke at 6:41 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Don't forget that rape is defined differently in different countries.

In the U.S., rape can include violent rape by a stranger, but that's relatively rare. Much more common are date rape and marital rape.

If this article is correct, marital rape of wives over age 16 is not illegal in India. So that's a huge number of rapes each year that will be counted in one country and not in another.

In the U.S., at least in many jurisdictions, it is rape to have sex with someone who is too intoxicated to consent to sex, or to force someone who you are dating to have sex, or to force your spouse to have sex. Are these kinds of rapes illegal in India? Do they factor in to your equations?

With pre-marital sex less common/accepted in India, with fewer women drinking in public, and with many women and men spending less one-on-one time alone together, is it also possible that there are fewer opportunities for date rape?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: My apologies for the misreading and the resulting derail.
posted by vidur at 6:45 PM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: As in, if there is under-reporting, how do I find out how much under-reporting is there in India and in other countries?

Page 2 of this report (PDF) that I found linked on Wikipedia says 16% of rapes in the US are reported. So to answer your question--keep digging on Wikipedia and Google.
posted by hoyland at 6:46 PM on January 13, 2013

As a general rule, never compare statistics between countries unless you know for a fact they have been standardized. The OECD is one place for such stats, as I recall.
posted by Decimask at 9:32 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'll keep digging.
posted by vidur at 9:40 PM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: As a datapoint, Canada does not legally recognise rape. We have sexual assault instead, which covers a spectrum of unwanted sexualised behaviour including groping, threats, voluntary sex under the age of consent etc. I suspect other western countries also have a broader definition of rape beyond violent PIV sex.

As someone that worked on a rape crisis line, I can definitively state there were many under-reported sexual assaults - I also know of many sexual assaults that were not reported to crisis lines either. My friends report behaviour in India that would have been considered sexual assault in Canada, but they felt had no remedy through the Indian legal system (with the added complications of the caste system layering on top).
posted by saucysault at 4:20 AM on January 14, 2013

Actually, looking the wiki page you linked, compare Canada and the US. Canada has around 1.5 rapes per 100,000, the US has 30. There's no way there is THAT many more rapes in the US (the two countries are relatively similar culturally) and of the two, Canada is the less likely to have underreported rapes. So I would look askance at any stats on that page based soley on those two examples.
posted by saucysault at 4:31 AM on January 14, 2013

Best answer: Methodology is everything. And not just for rape, where there is a strong incentive to underreport because as a woman you stand an odds on chance of being tarred as a slut, adulterer, liar etc.

For example, gun rights advocates in the US never tire of telling people how violent the UK is. But examine the data for a moment. The UK counts threats to kill and deaths from careless driving, harassment, assaults without injury, possession of an article with a blade or a point and a whole host of other crimes in its reporting of violence.

The UNODC data for 2010, which is not standardised, shows that assaults occur at a rate of 1,449.7/100,000 population in Scotland but only 1.4/100,000 population in Poland. I have no idea whether Scotland is more violent than Poland or not, but I suspect you are not 1000x more at risk of being assaulted in Scotland than you are in Poland.

It is, obviously, harder to come up with such radically different definitions and reporting methods for murder. In 2010, the UK had a rate of 1.2/100,000 population while Poland had a rate of 1.3/100,000 population.

One could possibly conclude that Scottish people are either very poor at assaulting people seriously enough to kill them, or extremely skilled in the art of assaulting people without subsequently killing them. But I suspect that methodological differences play a leading role in data discrepancies.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:32 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Statistics are not standardised internationally, thus comparing them is not good practice.

Much like Canada above, Australia does not (no longer) legally recognise rape, only sexual assault, which is a much broader crime encompassing many acts which most people would consider less serious than rape. However, many non-lawyers interpret sexual assault stats as rape stats, which leads to errors.

There are also various government funded bodies whose "reporting" of the state of the issue is somewhat questionable, as their funding is directly linked to the enormity of the issue and/or the number of cases they work with.
posted by jannw at 4:43 AM on January 14, 2013

This is a great lesson on where Wikipedia, as wonderful as it is, can fall down. Besides the Canada/US dichotomy, look at other countries that are culturally similar and have similar common-law rooted legal systems; Northern Ireland/Ireland, Australia/New Zealand, India/Bangledesh... The difference in numbers don't make sense. As MuffinMan says, the overall methodology is not systematic at all, it is literally comparing apples to oranges. Also, if you look at wiki's source for that table - the numbers are completely different! When looking at cited works, ALWAYS compare the primary source, always - especially when looking at wiki (and don't just go by the clicking footnoted link - that could be spam, independently source the primary document from an authoritive source). The wiki table your original investigation was based on has been significantly altered (the UN table that is cited as the source doesn't even have figures for the US).
posted by saucysault at 6:58 AM on January 14, 2013

Whoops, letme modify my statement, the link sent me to "reported sexual assaults", there is a different UN sourced table wiki references for rape, which does seem to agree with the wiki table, although my caveat stands that as there is no legal definition of rape in Canada I do not see how any figures can be extrapolated for the UN table.
posted by saucysault at 7:11 AM on January 14, 2013

There are a couple of other things to consider:

Women who live in urban areas are presumably at greater risk for being raped than women in rural areas. So it might make more sense to compare rates in comparable rural and urban areas in different countries, rather than the overall rates reported rapes per capita. (I'm not really sure what to do with American suburbs here.)

Cultural practices can affect risk. "Date rape" is an issue in a lot of Western countries. It's obviously less of a problem for people who don't rely on dating to find potential marriage partners.

Rapists usually continue raping women until they're caught. So, assuming that higher rates of reporting leads to higher rates of arrest and conviction, higher rates of reporting may lead to lower rates of actual rapes. (But, of course, we're relying on guesstimates to make sense of this.)

So it's entirely possible that women in India are less likely to get raped than women the US, if a higher percentage of women live in rural areas and they are less likely to practice dating, even if the perception that Indian cities are less safe than American ones — in terms of the risk of being raped by a stranger — is accurate. (I'm not arguing that this is the case, just that this might be the case.)
posted by nangar at 11:10 AM on January 14, 2013

Response by poster: It is, obviously, harder to come up with such radically different definitions and reporting methods for murder.

Thanks, MuffinMan. That's a great point. Looking at data for murder (assuming murder to be proxy for crime in general), the numbers make a lot more intuitive sense. I doubt if murder is under-reported or differently defined in India.

Thank you all, again.
posted by vidur at 2:53 PM on January 14, 2013

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