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Police Investigate Gang Rape of American Tourist in Northern India

The assault took place amid a drop in foreign tourism and the investigations and trials of several other rapes across the country.
September 17, 2015, 6:08pm
Imagen por Piyal Adhikary/EPA

The recent gang rape of an American woman in India's northern city of Dharamsala is bringing renewed attention to the country's struggle to curb sexual assault and violence against women amid a drop in foreign tourism.

The rape of the 46-year-old Californian woman is the latest in a series of high profile cases that have reached international media headlines. Police are investigating the incident, which occurred last week as the woman was walking through the town's main market.

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The woman, whose name has not been disclosed, told police she was attacked by two people while shopping at a market on Monday. Deputy Superintendent of Police Renu Sharma said authorities were looking for suspects.

Dharamsala is a popular tourist destination and the current home of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. The incident occurred as India's tourism industry is taking a hit over fears of pervasive sexual violence. After the infamous fatal rape of a 23-year-old local woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012, foreign tourist numbers fell some 25 percent in the first quarter of 2013, while the number of women tourists dropped by 35 percent, according to an Indian tourism industry survey.

A year after the so-called Delhi bus rape, an American tourist was gang raped by a group of men in a hill resort in northern India in 2013. Three months earlier in March, a Swiss tourist was gang raped while on a camping trip in a forest in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. In the same month, a British woman jumped out of her hotel balcony in Uttar Pradesh state to escape a feared sexual assault.

Three years later, activists and scholars say there has been only moderate progress in changing the longstanding social mores that has led to pervasive rape in India. Grassroots activists and organizations have, however, made persistent attempts to educate women and make some changes to India's sexual assault laws.

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Related: How India Is Fixing Its Rape Culture — and Why There's Still a Long Way Left to Go

The government expanded the legal definition of rape and increased sentences for convictions, but also refused to criminalize marital rape, citing India's cultural heritage that understands marriage differently from the West. Despite the stronger laws, women in India are still at great risk for violence.

Delhi police registered 300 reports of rape and 500 reports of molestation in the first two months of 2015, according to theTimes of India, a trend that put the Indian capital on pace to more than double the number of such incidents from the previous year. The National Crime Records Bureau says more than 24,200 rapes were reported across the country in 2011 — roughly one every 20 minutes. Experts believe that many sexual assaults go unreported.

The recent rape of the Californian tourist also follows another incident earlier this month when a tour guide allegedly drugged and raped a 19-year-old Japanese woman in the city of Jaipur, in the western state of Rajasthan.

In January, authorities arrested five men for the gang rape of another 22-year-old Japanese tourist in India's eastern city of Kolkata in November last year. Six men are also currently on trial for the alleged rape of a Danish tourist in Delhi in January 2014.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Watch the VICE News documentary Bangladeshi Gang Rape