Rape cases: Reforms needed in existing laws
The definition of rape in the Penal Code is a colonial one. It's unfortunate that the criminal justice system defines rape without much change in it. The Indian Penal Code has moved on from this colonial definition. The British law has gone far ahead with a separate statute for sexual offenses. India has a 2013 separate law for sexual harassment at workplace. It's time for Bangladesh to look for a new updated law.
There have always been rape cases and assault cases in courts. Only three percent of rape suspects are convicted. Why is the conviction rate so low? The lower courts are usually stricter. Various issues come into play in the higher courts--for example, death sentences reduced to life terms. The cases can drag on for years. As a result, people have this notion that they can get away with committing rape.
What happens after someone is raped? It's a traumatic experience, and the first thing most women would do is go and wash themselves. But the first thing they should do is go to a government medical centre and get a check-up and a report. That's the first thing one should do. People need to be aware. There should have a provision for teaching children and making them aware. Children are also victims of sexual harassment. To be aware about what constitutes harassment and to have the courage to inform parents; and school should teach children about harassment. There is also the issue of society: what will people say? When it comes to witnesses, they cannot always master the courage to come forward with information, fearing consequences. In the worst-case scenario, the survivor is asked to marry the rapist. And women are sometimes forced to marry their rapists to be rid of the shame associated with it. Sometimes, the rapists themselves propose to marry them in order to obtain bail from the courts.
Information relating to rape or sexual assault must be taken into cognisance in writing, irrespective of the place of occurrence. In our country, cases must be filed at the police station of the area where the crime has been committed. But in cases of rape, any police station would have to register the complaint. The suggested reform also includes making a designated website and hotline for complaint, provision of punishment in case of the failure of an officer to register complaints. It says that a round-the-clock female police officer, not below the rank of a constable, must be present in each station and the identities of victims have to be kept confidential.
Police stations should have a list of female social workers who may be of assistance; the victim's statement should be recorded in the presence of a lawyer or friend nominated by her. It directs provisions for informing the victim support centre and providing of interpretation services. DNA chemical tests should be mandatory and sent to the forensic labs within 48 hours. We need enactment of laws for sexual harassment. Next is the implementation of the law.