For women in India, reporting sexual assault to the police can result in being ignored, harassed or sometimes worse. Such was the case for a 20-year-old woman living in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The woman was working in the fields when two brothers tried to drag her away; she escaped by biting their hands, then fleeing. But after she and her family and went to the police to report the attack, they were turned away by officials, her family alleges.

Two days later, the woman’s father returned to the station to file a second complaint. “We waited for the police to come for inquiries the entire day, but no one came,” the woman’s brother, Vinod Kumar, told Reuters.

Instead, the two brothers tracked the woman down as she worked. They poured kerosene on her and set her on fire. She is in the hospital with serious burns covering 40 percent of her body, according to the regional police superintendent, Prabhakar Chaudhary.

A senior police officer told reporters that he was investigating why the initial complaint was not registered. The three officers who turned the woman away have been suspended for “neglecting” their duty.

A systemic problem

Though India enacted tough new laws against convicted rapists in 2012 — convicted attackers face much harsher penalties, up to and including the death penalty — studies show that the number of sexual assaults has climbed.

At the same time, a small fraction of such crimes is reported. Even fewer get the attention of police. Between 2012 and 2016, police investigated only a third of the crimes reported to them.

“Rights groups have accused Indian police of bowing to pressure from local politicians to bury investigations. In some cases, investigations of sexual assault have evaporated out of sheer police apathy,” Reuters reported.

‘An instrument to assert power’

Women who do report their crimes often face not only apathy but also violence. In just one week this year, three teenage girls were burned alive after speaking out against rape and sexual assault. In one instance, a 16-year-old was soaked in fuel and set on fire after threatening to tell her family about a rape. In another, a 16-year-old’s parents complained to village elders about a rape.

Her attackers were ordered to do sit-ups and pay a fine as punishment. But even that relatively light sentence angered the attackers, who beat the woman’s parents, then killed her.

“Rape is increasingly used as an instrument to assert power and intimidate the powerless in India,” according to the BBC.

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