Unsafe and insecureRecent media disclosures of police complicity with rape perpetrators tells a lot about our society
The staggering number of rape cases reported in various parts of the country over recent weeks has attracted a great deal of media attention. Cases of rape have been registered with the police in Kathmandu, Chitwan, Jhapa, Sunsari and Khotang.
This is not an anomalous situation. On average, 78 rape charges are registered with the police every month. Given that there is so much shame surrounding rape in Nepali society, it can readily be imagined that a vast number of rape cases are not even registered with the police. It is thus no exaggeration to state that rape now constitutes a major societal and law-and-order problem in Nepal.
The response by the authorities to these incidents of rape, meanwhile, is nowhere proportionate to the gravity and extent of the crime. In fact, recent cases have revealed severe flaws in the police’s approach to rape cases. Instead of acting impartially to ensure justice, the police seem driven by the same prejudices that mar large sections of Nepali society. In many cases, it is evident that the police act as though the rape victim is to blame rather than the perpetrators. Many police officials seem to have imbibed the notion that the victim should be the one who feels shame following the rape.
In a number of recent cases, the police seem to have acted in favour of the perpetrators rather than the victim. In a recent case in Kathmandu where an alleged rape took place at a Durbar Marg hotel, the victim went to the police station and strongly insisted that she had been raped. But the inspector did not register her complaint and told her to settle the issue with the perpetrators of the crime. Days later, she suspiciously withdrew the charges she had filed, indicating that major pressure was brought to bear to force her to withdraw the charges.
It is commonplace for the police to refuse to file charges, preferring instead to force the victim and perpetrator to come to an agreement. This has been the general practice with the police who put the moral burden on the victim. The standard line: it will only make the girl’s life difficult when the society finds it out.
There are numerous cases where perpetrators have gone free after paying the victim or the families certain amounts of money. And even in cases where incidents of rape manage to get a hearing in court, the proceedings drag on for years.
Due to sustained scrutiny in the media, it seems that the police have finally begun to realise that a major overhaul is required when it comes to the handling of rape cases. Only recently, an inspector at a police station in Kathmandu was suspended after it was found that he had urged a rape victim to reach an agreement with the perpetrators. This is a positive step, but it is not nearly enough. The police need to adopt a number of reforms.
First of all, they need to ensure that all rape charges are filed and pursue investigation. Their personnel should be instructed not to coerce victims into reaching agreements with perpetrators. Furthermore, judicial mechanisms need to be strengthened so that rape and other incidents of gender based violence receive swift resolution.