Did the rate of reported rapes in India really double from 2011 to 2012? In quoting the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) statistics on the rate of rapes reported in those years, media reports on the subject have been missing a crucial alteration in the way the NCRB calculates this percentage. Here’s Rukmini Shrinivasan, National Data Editor at The Hindu, to break it down for you.
What is the media getting wrong when quoting the NCRB’s figures on reported rape from 2011 and 2012? What changed between those years, and how does it affect statistics on rape?
Until 2011, the NCRB measured the rate of reported crime as the number of instances of a crime against 1,00,000 of the general population. This made statistics comparable across cities, in which population size can differ to a large degree (instead of having an absolute number, which wouldn’t be helpful when comparing crime in a big city like Delhi to, say, Jabalpur).
According to 2011 NCRB data, 24,206 rapes were reported in India. The rate of rapes reported, measured against 1,00,000 of the general population, was 2 percent.
In 2012, this changed: instead of considering the number of rapes against the general population (which includes men and women), the 24,923 rapes reported were seen against 1,00,000 women. This changed the rate of reported rape significantly – naturally, it doubled to 4 percent.
What does this change signify, and why is it important to take it into account?
The rate of reported rape hasn’t increased drastically from 2011 to 2012, it’s just that the denominator has halved. Since the NCRB hasn’t applied the new way of calculating rate of rape to data from previous years, it is something reporters have to be more careful about. It’s also quite easy to estimate the female population for previous years – reporters should do that to keep the data comparable.
What else does one have to keep in mind when looking at statistics on rape?
While recording crime in India, a ‘principal offence system’ of statistics is used. This means, in a case involving a number of crimes, only the “most heinous”, i.e. carrying the maximum sentence, will be recorded. In a case of a rape and murder, only the murder is recorded. Thus, it’s useful to know that the December 2012 case would have been recorded only as a case of murder in NCRB stats, with no mention of rape.
The other problem – and perhaps an unresolvable one – is that we’ll never know if there is more reporting of crimes against women (which is a good thing) or if more are actually occurring (which is a bad thing). Kerala has a higher reported rate of domestic violence than most states; it’s likely that this is because women are more empowered in the state, but we can’t say that for certain. What’s best for journalists is to speak to experts and lay all views out, and not jump to conclusions. But overall, journalists these days are doing a much better job of reporting on NCRB data than before 2012.