In 2015, more than 34,000 cases of rape were reported in India alone — a devastating statistic that barely cracks the surface on India's epidemic violence against women.
Here, a photographer who works in Asia and abroad on social issues and who has asked to remain anonymous, shares the firsthand traumas behind this staggering statistic:
"In India, rape is just the beginning of the story. After that, if the rape is reported at all, comes a whole host of other hurdles, like dealing with police (who are sometimes untrained and extremely insensitive), shame from their family, threats and violence, and ostracization from their community. The courts can take years or even decades to reach a verdict on a particular case, with many rapes ordered as a twisted form of justice from the village courts. There are even instances when these girls are forced to actually marry their rapist.
Rape and child abuse happens all over the world, but the gruesome details of the rapes in India are what drove me to cover this story. The student in 2012 who was raped on a moving bus with a metal rod; the woman who was raped in a hospital after giving birth; the 15-year-old girl who was raped and then set on fire; the 6-year-old girl raped with a 4-foot iron rod; the girl who was gang-raped and had stones, blades, and sticks forced inside her. I wanted to go beyond the statistics and characterless headlines and show the world who these girls really are."
*All names of minors have been changed for the victim's protection.
1. Priyanka, age 15 from Uttar Pradesh, India
Priyanka was raped by a neighbor last year when she was 14 years old. The neighbor had been harassing her for a long time, and then one night he came on motorcycles with friends and threatened to kill her if she didn't get on the bike with him. He took her to a friend's house and raped her. For 10 days the police refused to register a case against him and when they did, they held her for two days in the station until she agreed to say in the statement that she went willingly him. Priyanka and her family say that he comes from a rich, influential family. The people in her village gossip; they say that she ran away voluntarily with him and that she did bad things.
After the rape he continued to harass her, sending his friends to tell her that if he sees her he will kill her, that he will come and kidnap her sisters, that he will kill her father. Recently, the alleged rapist and his friends saw her father on the road and they beat up him.
Two weeks ago, Priyanka was wed to a 22-year-old man in a marriage that her family arranged for her. They were worried about her safety and Priyanka thought that she would be safer if she was married and living in a different village. Her husband doesn't know about the rape, and the rapist has sent letters to her home threatening to tell her new family and break up the marriage. "I feel angry. There's nothing left in me," Priyanka says.
2. Sadaf, age 8, from Uttar Pradesh, India
Three months ago, Sadaf was raped by a doctor in her village. She says she was walking to the market to buy sweets when the doctor, who her family estimates is around 50 years old, forcefully pulled her inside his clinic and raped her. Afterward she stumbled out onto the street and fainted. When her family found her she was covered in blood and profusely bleeding. She told them what happened and they went to the police, but the police refused to register a case; they said that they should compromise because the doctor was offering them 2 lakh rupees (around $2,989) to drop the case. The family refused, and says, "They destroyed the life of our child, how can we compromise?
They estimate that they and their neighbors had to go to the police station 10 times before the police agreed to register the case. For five days after the rape, Sadaf bled and they had to shuffle her from hospital to hospital looking for facility that could provide adequate care. Since the rape, Sadaf has been sick and weak — too afraid to leave the house or return to school. The family is also afraid to let her leave the house because they say the rapist comes from a rich and powerful family and could harm her or kidnap her.
Before the rape Sadaf enjoyed going to school and dreamed of being an English teacher when she grows up. She loved to play board games and cricket with her best friend, Nisha, but she hasn't seen her for three months. Sadaf's uncle, who is fighting the case, has taken out two loans to help pay for transportation to the court house and for lawyer bills. Every time he has to go to court he must take off work from his job as a day laborer.
3. Nirmala, age 5, from Maharashtra, India
One day, Nirmala's mother gave her money to go to the corner store and buy food. While Nirmala was walking, a man came up to her and offered to buy her candy. He took her to a wooded area behind an apartment building complex and raped her, inserting a pen inside her. He left her naked and bleeding heavily. After the trauma she required two surgeries and stayed in the hospital for three months.
The police caught the man two weeks later. Since he's been in jail, his family keeps coming to Nirmala's family offering them money to drop the court case. Nirmala's family has since moved to a different neighborhood because the neighbors were gossiping, saying things like, "The girl's life is spoiled — what will you do now?" Nirmala's mother says they won't accept the money offered by the rapist's family, that they want justice instead.
4. Dipti, age 7, from Uttar Pradesh, India
Two years ago, when Dipti was 4 years old, she was raped by a neighbor, who the family says is about 27 years old now. The rape happened when her mother was at the market and her father was taking a shower. The neighbor found her playing up on the roof of her house and he raped her. Her father came up after his shower and asked her why her pants were wet, and she told him what happened to her. He took her to the police station where they registered a case. Her family asked the police for medical treatment for her, but the police responded, "Your daughter looks fine — all we need is her pants for the investigation."
Her family says that the community is torn; many people support them, but many others sympathize with the rapist because he is the only male of the family, and if he goes to jail, his family says no one will be able to financially support them. The rapist was in jail for one and a half years, but now he is out on bail, and has offered the family 80,000 rupees (about $1,195) to drop the case. After the rape, Dipti stayed home from school for 15 days because people were approaching her on the road to school, threatening that they would attack her brother unless her family dropped the case.
5. Gitanjali, age 9, from Uttar Pradesh, India
Gitanjali's 30-year-old father sexually abused her for years and raped her last year. He threatened to beat her and her mother with metal rods if she told anyone. When her grandfather found out, he went to the police and had him arrested. Since then, the whole family and whole village has been pressuring him to drop the case. He says, "Everyone in the village is against me. They say that he's my only son and ask who will look after me and my family? They don't understand that what he did is very wrong. They don't think that it's true. Even my wife and Gitanjali's mother want me to drop the case. I don't know how much longer I can go on, but I know who he is, I know he will never change. If I drop the case it will give him the strength to do this again."
Gitanjali's mother says that even though her husband often beat her, she wants him to get out of jail and come home. She says, "It's her fault as well. When she would be sick she wouldn't stay in bed, she would run around and act childish and my husband would watch her. I told her to stay away from him. She should have shouted when he locked the door. She didn't share anything with me."
Gitanjali says that she feels sad that her father is in jail. She says that when he's around that financially things are better, that he looks after the family and is able to buy them things. She says that every day her mother calls her a prostitute and blames her for her father being gone.