Rape cultureOur society and our law enforcement must accomodate victims, not shield perpetrators
When social ills become a festering, cancerous problem the hope that society will come to slowly eradicate them becomes a pipe dream. Some evils have no place for understanding, and only punitive actions against perpetrators, and strong messages assuring would-be perpetrators that they will be fully liable for the crime, will remove the malaise. Rape and sexual violence fall under this category.
The case of a 22-year-old woman being raped in Durbar Marg, with police personnel found attempting to mediate between the victim’s family and the perpetrators, was shocking. It was not only shocking for the heinous crime that rape is, or that the woman knew one of her rapists, but also because in refusing to register a case against the alleged assailants and attempting to mediate a settlement, the police personnel were doing something completely illegal. It is also not the only case of its kind. On average, 78 rape cases are reported in Nepal every month. Considering the amount of shame associated with victims of rape in Nepali society and the known cases of authorities unwilling to register complaints, the actual number of rape cases in Nepal could be much higher.
Often, victims are denied justice because authorities show a lack of sensitivity when victims or their next of kin try to file cases. The Durbar Marg case is only the most high profile example to have emerged in recent times. There definitely will be many more. In attempting to settle cases through mediation, authorities aren’t just breaking the law; they are telling the victims that the crime does not befit the punishment meted out by legal standards. By trying to convince the victims that they will be unduly profiled in the community by pushing through with a potentially controversial complaint, authorities—notably the police—are putting the moral burden squarely on the victim, someone whose rights have already been violated and subdued by the assailant(s).
Worryingly, cases of sexual violence against minors too are regular. The rape and murder of a teenage SEE candidate in Surkhet recently should have been another call for immediate nationwide alarm. Now, this past Monday, a 21-year-old man in Kanchanpur has been arrested after allegedly luring two young girls, aged seven and eight, to a forest and raping them. What is most sickening is that this is definitely not the first case, and sadly it will not be the last one, unless society and the authorities concerned take action.
For one, awareness campaigns making society understand the trauma of rape and the gravity of the crime have to be held countrywide. Let’s hope the three-month-long campaign announced by the Saptari police recently is a good start and this will be emulated by other districts. Second, law enforcement has to change its approach to become more victim-friendly. Authorities must be extra careful and considerate when taking rape complaints and hiring a higher number of women in the police force would help. At least, the police have to interact with women leaders and activists with the aim of sensitising their approach. Evidence in such cases has to be meticulously and properly collected so that the case is strong when presented at court. The sense of impunity that perpetrators feel comes from the lack of convictions and the police’s willingness to become mediators. This has to stop immediately.