What You Need to Know Before Reporting Rape
Not a preferred choice of discussion but women ought to know what to do if they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped.
There is no one kind of rape. The December 16 gangrape or the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case is a cruel reminder of how headline creators love irony. And the vengeance with which it’s plagiarized by lazy copywriters is an ode to its brilliance.
“Another Nirbhaya,” read the headline when a six-year-old was brutalised in 2015. There was a “Nirbhaya–like Rape in Bihar” a year earlier. “A Dalit Nirbhaya in Kerala” and then “Maharashtra’s Nirbhaya” in the last three months.
Despite the similar headlines, no two cases are ever alike. No two acts of violence are ever exactly the same. So, there can be no template response to what one should do if one wants to report rape.
But here are few basic rights, dos and don’ts every woman is better off knowing.
1. The First 60 Minutes
Nobody encourages anybody to report rape. As warped as it is, when it comes to rape cases, the burden of the brutalised is to comfort the bystander, who will convince the victim that it’s for his/her own good not to report the crime.
But if one does decide to take action, the first one hour is crucial. Within an hour, physical traces of the crime start to fade. It is important that one does not change clothes, wash, bathe, urinate, brush their teeth or use mouth wash.
It’s instinctive to wash oneself after such an incident, but doing so may destroy crucial evidence which is needed if one does decide to prosecute the perpetrator.
2. Hospital or Police Station?
Where should one go first? Whichever is closer, says Kaminidevi Bhoir, who serves as the Honorary Psychiatry Counsellor for the Mumbai Police. If possible, the victim should try and contact family or friends or even a local NGO for help. This is an absolute must if the perpetrator is known to exert influence in the area.
It is, however, advisable that the victim gets immediate medical attention first. It must be noted that the medical staff must preserve the clothes of the victim and keep them separate from one another.
3. Government Hospital or Private Hospital?
It shouldn’t matter. Private hospitals cannot refuse to treat a rape victim and they have to do it free of cost. Post the December 16, 2012 gang-rape case, significant changes were made to the mandated protocol that follows a rape complaint.
In March 2013, the Delhi High court ruled on a plea filed by lawyer Meera Bhatia who said that the victim’s chances of survival may have been significantly higher had the police taken her to a hospital in Mahipalpur as opposed to the Safdarjung hospital which is run by the government.
The court made it compulsory for private hospitals to treat victims of rape and asked the Centre to decide how to reimburse the expenditure incurred.
Later that year, the Centre issued a 68-page guideline specifying that a rape survivor need not file an FIR before seeking medical attention. This was applicable to accident victims as well.
In April 2016, the Bombay High Court took a stern view on private hospitals’ refusal to treat rape victims. The court threatened to initiate contempt proceedings against the state government if it failed to issue a directive to all private hospitals to treat victims of rape or acid attack, and free of cost.
4. What is the Hospital’s Responsibility?
The hospital is bound to provide treatment and conduct a medical examination with consent of the survivor/parent/guardian. A police requisition is not required for this. If the person does not wish to file an FIR, nobody can force him/her. But an informed refusal must be documented by the doctor.
Forensic evidence may be collected with the consent of the survivor. This may include removing or isolating clothing, scalp hair, foreign substances from the body, saliva and samples from the vagina, anus, rectum, mouth and collecting a blood sample.
Apart from the preliminary medical exam and sample collection, the victim should be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STI), HIV, Hepatitis B, and pregnancy.
In treating the victim’s body like a crime scene, not enough stress is laid on offering counselling to the victim. Psychologists or psychiatrists, as the case may be, should be available when a rape case is brought to the hospital’s notice.
The victim’s confidentiality is in the hands of the hospital staff and the police and is of paramount importance.
6. Contentious Two-Finger Test
Despite a ban, the two-finger test continues to be in practice by some doctors to check vaginal laxity. The medical report often notes the victim as being “habitual to sex” and attaches a moral value to the victim’s suffering.
The medical fraternity however insists that doctors have to examine the vaginal area to check for internal injuries. “But it’s not to check whether the lady is habitual or not, it’s not to check the hymen, but to check for injuries,” Dr Kaminidevi Bhoir tells The Quint.
The problem is not with the doctor conducting the test, but when inferences are being made in the medico-legal case (MLC) report. The report with the doctor’s observations and inferences becomes part of evidence and a crucial factor during prosecution.
7. When does the Police Step in?
If the victim approaches the police first, it is their responsibility to take her to a hospital. If the victim goes to the hospital first and indicates her wish to file a complaint, it is the responsibility of the hospital to inform the police.
The police must register an FIR, ensure that a lady officer talks to the victim and records the detailed statement. If the officer-in-charge refuses to register the FIR, then the victim can send a copy of the complaint to the Deputy Commissioner of Police or the Superintendent of Police. If action is still not taken, then the complaint can be filed before the magistrate within the same jurisdiction as the police station.
The complainant should get a copy of the FIR and the Medico-Legal case (MLC) report made by the hospital.
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