The first step to solving any problem is to understand it more deeply
Rape, assault, harassment -- words we are ever-so-familiar with, and problems that still remain untamed. Rape is a crime that has the worst kind of effect on its victims. Raising awareness against it through innovative methods is a necessity for the modern world.
As we enter a new decade, we find ourselves in a country that has welcomed revolutionary changes. Some are as big as Bangladesh fulfilling the requirements to qualify as a developing country, while others are simple yet astonishing changes, like increased investment in basic education, and NGOs providing a helping hand to victims of abuse. Most strikingly, we see citizens who are developing into more conscious and responsible members of society.
Over the years, some of us might have seen the crimes around ourselves decrease while remaining blind to the crimes around others. All it takes is one report of a gruesome act, and reports of many others follow, reeling back our short-lived sense of security. It forces us to re-consider our fear: Were those “revolutionary changes” all in vain?
No. Those praiseworthy modifications were very real, but not enough to overpower the enemy. The problem isn’t that we don’t initiate change. We do. But we have the tendency of basing our effort on one incident and to halt our efforts after a single positive outcome. But to make a worthwhile change, we need more than that. We need facts, and regularly updated, data-driven evidence, which can help us understand the problem more deeply.
Recently, Intekhab Hossain, a mathematics and bioinformatics graduate from Williams College, USA, has decided to take an initiative and start what he calls the R-squared project, an innovative way of raising awareness through data science. He aims to not only spread awareness against everyday problems, but also provide a deeper understanding of why they occur in the first place.
This initiative performs statistical analyses to help visualize how much we’ve done to eradicate a problem and how much more we need to do, often collaborating with Bangladeshi researchers, to bring their important findings to the forefront of social media. For its pilot study, the R-squared Project decided to focus on sexual violence.
The data used for this analysis came from prominent Bangladeshi NGOs like Odhikar and Ain O Salish Kendra, who collect it by going through newspapers for the number of rape cases reported each month. Even with the notorious culture of victim-shaming and blaming pervading our society, the number of rape cases that are reported annually has almost doubled in just a few years -- from about 450 in 2007 to around 800 in 2012, 2013, and 2017; an increasing trend which persists even after a multivariate-regression adjustment is performed for report-bias correction.
Furthermore, to think of all the rape cases that go unreported is simply heart-breaking. To supplement their analysis, the R-Squared Project also performed a literature-review of a recent study by Dr Ruchira Tabassum’s team in icddr,b: “Men’s Attitudes and Practices Regarding Gender and Violence against Women in Bangladesh.”
The study found that roughly half of the 2,400 men surveyed had emotionally or physically abused their female sexual partners, and one in every 10 men had committed sexual assault of females including non-partners.
The picture gets uglier when we learn that children are no less safe than adult women when it comes to sexual assault. In fact, the data from Odhikar suggests that they’re more likely to become victims than their adult counterparts. Over the last decade, girls under 18 have consistently been victims in over half of the cases reported every year, exceeding 70% in 2017.
Perhaps ironically, all of this comes about at a time when we’re proudly embracing historic rises in enrollment at our secondary schools (a 25% increase over the last 10 years). However, we cannot hope to solve the problem from its roots without a corresponding rise in the quality of the education we provide. Indeed, there is little use of an education system that fails to impart on its students moral values which encourage them to be responsible citizens.
Along with proper education, it’s just as important for parents to be able to talk to their children openly about matters of sexual assault and educate them about its nuances. To overlook this on grounds of some taboo is only going to perpetuate the situation that we face.
The data is not all negative, however.
One promising trend is that the number of victims who die/commit suicide because of rape has decreased gradually. It stands to reason that initiatives by institutions like Odhikar and ASK, along with national and private helplines, are playing a vital role in providing support to sexual assault victims. Providing this much-needed support is an important step towards empowering them to speak out and make their voices heard louder.
Along with these observations, we can also find specific patterns to these crimes that might help us better deal with the situation. For instance, the icddr,b study found that men who experienced mental and physical abuse during childhood were more likely to perpetrate violence against women. Also, more than 40% of the men surveyed had first forced a woman into sex as minors. 80% of the men who had raped indicated that they felt they were entitled to sex.
All of these facts reinforce the importance of a nurturing domestic environment, the necessity of supportive school counselling, and the incorporation of healthy gender attitudes into every part of a child’s education.
Like any other problem that we face today, the nature of rape is also complex. Further courses of action will need to be taken based on more nuanced statistical analyses of these crimes, that is currently being performed by Mushfique Ahmed, Fahim Shahriyar, and Tanzilur Rahaman of The R-Square Project.
As Intekhab Hossain puts it: “Although the path to a solution is difficult, the first step to solving any problem is to understand it more deeply” -- and data is one of the most effective tools we have for taking this first step.
Antara Raisa Rahman and Fahim Faisal are members of the Outreach & Publishing Team of The R-Squared Project, a novel data-science initiative aimed at raising social-awareness, using innovative statistical/graphical tools.