by Ayani Srivastava and Priyattama Bhanj
In the Part I of the post, the authors discussed the need for revamping the laws governing the crime of rape with focus on the nature of medical evidence which should be procured in rape cases and the process of collection and storage of the same. In Part II, they discuss the role of police in secondary victimisation and how the same needs to be tackled.
Role of police in the aftermath of rape
One of the primary reasons rape victims refrain from reporting a rape is the unfeeling attitude of the police. The insensitive questioning and condescending behaviour of the police officers towards the victim is a degrading process which leaves her feeling humiliated. One of the many instances where this insensitivity shines through is that of a cop in UP who seemed to wonder “why would anyone rape an elderly woman?”,when a 35-year-old mother of two came to report her rape. The police deem it important to first test the legitimacy of the complaint using benchmarks such as the clothes worn by the victim, the time of commission of crime, and whether the woman was accompanied by a male relative or not. All these questions indicate victim-blaming.
The Criminal Law Amendment act 2013 has inserted section 53A to the Indian Evidence Act which states that the conduct or previous sexual experiences of the victim are not relevant in a trial. The conduct of the victim should therefore be not a parameter for the police to adjudge whether or not to register the complaint.
It is imperative that police officers undergo a sensitisation and awareness training programme wherein they are familiarised with the methodology of interacting with victims who have recently been inflicted with trauma. Further, it is preferable that a female police officer be present for recording the testimony of the victim. Senior officers should ensure that the requisition letters for forensic examinations mandate doctors to not comment on the victims “habituation to intercourse”. In the event that the victim needs immediate medical attention, the police should immediately take her to a hospital. Such delays may cause hindrances in the procurement of forensic evidence.
Investigative techniques adopted by the police
A recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reveals startling facts concerning rape. There has been a steady rise in the number of rapes. It is the fastest growing crime in India and has increased exponentially by a staggering 902% over 1971 to 2012. Further, 90 % of rapes in India go unreported. Out of the ones that are reported, a mere 24.2% culminate in a conviction, as observed in 2012. Of the total 38,144 rape cases pending investigation in 2012, charge-sheets were submitted in a mere 21,565 (56.5%) cases. Investigations were still pending in 14,695 (35.9%) rape cases at the end of the year. In majority of rape cases, the victim knows the perpetuator. In fact, in 1.6% of such cases the accused is a parent while in 6.4% of cases it is a relative and in 34% cases it is a neighbour or any other known person.
These figures, horrific as they may be, do not present the real picture because of the manner in which data collation takes place. The National Crime Records Bureau however only takes cognisance of the most serious crime while data collection. Therefore, rapes which lead to the death of the victim are recorded as murder, and not rape. This camouflages the real situation, which is infinitely worse.
Instead of demanding harsher penalties for rape accused, there should be a demand for improvement in investigation techniques employed by the law enforcement agencies.
The reaction of the society elicited by the December 16 gang rape was primarily due to the sheer brutality of commission of offence and many have argued that had it not been for the insertion of the rod into the victim’s body, this crime too would have become a statistic, “just another rape”. This is also evident by the media coverage imparted to the Mumbai gang rape. Though the anger of the masses reignited, the hue and cry was short-lived. The pronouncement of death sentence for the adult perpetrators of the rape assuaged public anger. Why is it that if a woman survives, the severity of the crime of less importance? Isn’t rape in itself a serious enough crime? Why does it need to be backed by ‘death of the victim’ or ‘permanent vegetative state’ to be given a distinct recognition? The very acuity of rape is associated with the honour of a woman and this very perception is flawed. Rape like any other crime is a crime against the state and most importantly against humanity. The authors argue that of late, rape as a crime has been given the requisite importance, but the truly relevant issues are not being addressed. The answers do not necessarily lie in punishing the accused or ascertaining the gravity of each rape but going to the very root of the problem i.e. addressing societal treatment of the victim and detaching the stigma from her the crime of rape.
(Ayani Srivastava and Priyattama Bhanj are second and first year students of NUJS, Kolkata. Ayani Srivastava is an Associate Editor and Priyattama Bhanj is an Assistant Editor at JILS)