The death of a 13-year-old girl who was gang-raped and set on fire in central India has fueled new outrage over the frequency of sexual assault in India, and the difficulty victims have in bringing their attackers to justice.
"I don't go out after dark," said Natasha Shah, a 26-year-old writer from New Delhi. "You don't feel so great going to a club, you don't really enjoy it and your parents will be calling you all night to check you're safe."
The attack took place Tuesday night in Orai, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The victim was returning from a trip to a local farm with her older sister when she was raped by three young men, according to the Times of India. Villagers identified one of the assailants as a "local goon," the newspaper says.
They set her on fire after she threatened to report them, the newspaper reports. She suffered burns over 80% of her body and died in a hospital.
Local police officials told the Indo-Asian News Service that the girl's family had not filed an official complaint, but that officers acting on other information were raiding several locations in search of the assailants.
In a separate incident Wednesday, a 13-year-old girl in Meerut, also in Uttar Pradesh, was abducted, raped and murdered by three youths. The girl went missing after she left her house. Her body was found with strangulation marks around her neck, the Times of India reported.
Two of the victim's classmates and a male friend have been detained in the case.
The cases are only the latest in a series of high-profile sexual attacks in India. Last December, the gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi set off a nationwide series of protests and garnered worldwide attention after the victim died of her injuries.
In September, four of her attackers were sentenced to death.
Still, Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research for the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, said such cases — in which alleged perpetrators are actually put on trial for their crimes — are rare.
"These cases that come to light are the tip of the iceberg," she said. "It's a problem that many people have known about for decades but it's been really ignored."
She said attitudes toward sexual violence need to come a long way. "People still seem to think it's acceptable in a lot of contexts," Bhabha said.
Kavita Krishnan of the Shakarpur-based All India Progressive Women's Association said the tendency to scrutinize victims rather than perpetrators is a persistent obstacle.
"Victim blaming is a huge problem is India," she said. "It's rampant — politicians do it, the police do it, lots of influential people in society do it. But it's not like it only happens in India."
Krishnan said that there's been little accountability of police, who often refuse to adequately investigate rape accusations.
"Essentially, it's a pressure tactic to get the family to withdraw the case," Krishnan said, in some cases because "the perpetrators of such offenses may be locally known, they may be powerful."
The good news, said Bhabha, is that India has no shortage of groups that have been studying this issue for decades.
"This is not a new issue," she said. "They don't need outsiders to come in and tell them what to do."