An American tourist was raped by three men in the Indian resort town of Manali on Monday night, according to local authorities. Police are investigating the case, which follows several high-profile rape cases involving young women and children in India and months of public protest against rape culture in the country.
The woman was returning to her hotel from a neighboring village when a truck driver offered her a lift. He and two other men, described by the victim as in their early twenties, proceeded to take her to a secluded spot and rape her. The woman reported her rape to local police, who have initiated a manhunt, blocking all trucks from leaving the town. No arrests have been made yet.
The issue of sexual violence has been at the forefront of Indian headlines since the brutal and fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman in a New Delhi bus last December. Massive protests and outcry erupted across India in the weeks and months following the case. Two separate instances of gang-rape against five-year-old girls in April, one of whom died, fanned the fire of continuing protests.
A report from the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN in January found that at least two women are raped in the country every hour, as well as high rates of domestic violence, targeting of women in lower caste groups, and cultural stigma that leads to severe under-reporting of violence against women. The government has responded through legislation increasing penalties for rapists and expanding definitions of sexual violence and harassment — but activists have had a lukewarm response and are calling for stronger enforcement, police training, and further legal action. The new law still fails to recognize marital rape (a leftover from the colonial-era Indian Penal Code), ignores rape against men and LGBTQ people, and does not address military sexual assault. The UN Special Rappoteur on violence against women also criticized the government for missing a “golden moment” to address the roots of sexual violence and take a holistic approach to the problem.
Since the controversial case and subsequent protests, the number of female tourists visiting India has fallen by over a third. At least six female tourists have reported being attacked or traumatized by men in that time. In January, a hotel manager in state of Madhya Pradesh confessed to the rape of a South Korean tourist. Two months later, the rape of Swiss tourist on a cycling trip through rural northern India led to the arrest and ongoing trial of six men, as well as a state official suggesting that the victim was at fault for not informing police of her travel plans. That same month, a British tourist in Agra jumped off her hotel room balcony, fracturing both her legs, to escape sexual harassment by the hotel’s manager.
As sexual violence has dominated headlines, a common response from government officials has been to engage in victim-blaming. The accused’s lawyer in the Delhi gang-rape case alleged that the victim was at fault for not “assessing the situation” before boarding the bus. In May, the city council of Mumbai, India’s largest city, sought to tackle rape by passing an ordinance banning scantily-clad mannequins in shop windows. The ordinance’s proposer said that rapists are “provoked by mannequins” and that “mannequins do not suit Indian culture”.