In the Moments After Rape: What To Do, Who to Reach Out To
There are certain irrevocable maxims that any woman who has survived sexual assault will benefit from.
There are certain irrevocable maxims that any woman who has survived sexual assault will benefit from.(Photo: iStock)

In the Moments After Rape: What To Do, Who to Reach Out To

In 2011, a 30-year-old woman who lives in a small hamlet near the town of Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, was raped. She was raped while her husband was away, and she was busy decking up her home for a family function in the evening. The village pujaari who had been catcalling her (let’s call her Meera) for days now, allegedly barged into her home that afternoon with a group of his henchmen – and while the latter stood guard at the door, he forced himself on her.

When Meera resisted, she says, he hit her on the head with a cane – ironically, the same one he’d use to conduct his priestly duties at the very village temple that Meera’s family would congregate at. Once he’d raped her, he reportedly threatened her against telling anyone, and left her, bloodied and defenceless.

When Meera resisted, he hit her on the head with a cane.
When Meera resisted, he hit her on the head with a cane.
(Photo: Susnata Paul/The Quint)

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:

Meera did report the rape. However, she washed up right after the assault had happened. She also faced the most trite and unhelpful posse of cops at the local thana who – when she told them the name of her perpetrator – laughed and asked her to wait whilst they finished lunch.

I sat there, on a cold thana bench, alone and holding my bleeding head in my hands. Meanwhile, I could hear them chatting and laughing in the next room as they luxuriously finished their meals.
Meera

When Meera’s report was finally filed, it was nine in the night. She was also subjected to the inhumane two-finger test to “assess her virginity” or “check” whether she had been accustomed to regular sexual intercourse. This, before the degrading examination, was summarily banned by India’s Supreme Court in 2013.

Also Read: “Waiting for Years”: Post Nirbhaya, 3 Rape Survivors’ Raw Accounts

A number of factors contributed to Meera’s perpetrator getting the benefit of doubt in the district court that heard her case. One, that the medical examination had proved inconclusive in terms of establishing sexual assault. And two, because, almost none of the correct medico-legal procedures required post-rape, had been carried out.

While Meera and her husband fight it out in an appeal at the Madhya Pradesh High Court (it’s been seven years since her rape) – her case also brings to light certain irrevocable maxims that any woman who has survived sexual assault will benefit from:

Don’t Wash Up

The most primal instinct that kicks in right after your body has been invaded without your consent will be to wash up. But that risks washing away a lot of the physical evidence. Dr Kaminidevi Bhoir, Honorary Psychiatry Counsellor for Mumbai Police, suggests that you head to the police station wearing exactly what you’re wearing.

Apart from the vaginal swab that a medical examination will collect for traces of semen, injury marks on your body and clothes will also help lead the police to the perpetrator or perpetrators. Forensic evidence such as nail clippings are also collected from the survivor, as they may contain specimens of his DNA.
Dr Bhoir points out that evidence can be collected from the survivor’s body even up to a week after the assault has occurred.
Dr Bhoir points out that evidence can be collected from the survivor’s body even up to a week after the assault has occurred.
(Photo: iStock)

While it is advisable to report the crime as soon as it occurs, Dr Bhoir points out that evidence can be collected from the survivor’s body even up to a week after the assault has occurred.

You Can Go to the Hospital First…

It is important to note that a survivor may directly go to a hospital or medical care facility immediately after the rape, before one reports to the cops. According to an extensive report published by Human Rights Watch in November 2017 – which interviewed 20 rape survivors, police officials, lawyers and doctors across four states in India –

Health providers have a dual role when it comes to responding to sexual violence. They must provide therapeutic care to survivors – including addressing their sexual, reproductive, and mental health problems – and also play a critical role in the response of the criminal justice system, by collecting forensic evidence for use during any criminal investigation and prosecution.
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Police requisition is not mandatory for a sexual assault survivor to seek medical examination and care.
Police requisition is not mandatory for a sexual assault survivor to seek medical examination and care.
(Photo: iStock)

While in the past, the examination of a sexual assault survivor would be done only after police requisition, the SC clarified during a rape case in 2000, that –

Police requisition is not mandatory for a sexual assault survivor to seek medical examination and care. The doctor should examine such cases, even if the survivor reports to the hospital first without an FIR.
Manual for Medical Examination for Sexual Assault

This Manual was published by the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes – or CEHAT – in 2010, based on the experiences of sexual assault survivors in Mumbai’s public hospitals.

Your Consent is Essential

It is important to know your rights. While the SC held in May 2013 that the two-finger test on a rape survivor violates her right to privacy, HRW’s survey shows that it continues to be used across various states in India. This is because, in certain places, doctors take the survivor’s consent for the entire forensic examination as a whole – which may include the test – and the survivor herself may have little understanding of what tests the exam will include.

Ask and be informed. You have every right to know what tests shall be conducted on your body.

You have every right to know what tests shall be conducted on your body.
You have every right to know what tests shall be conducted on your body.
(Photo: iStock)

Also, post the trauma of rape, when a woman’s consent has already been violated, she may feel that her consent/agency no longer holds value, but that is NOT the case. Remember that:

1. You must provide written consent for the examination. An examination cannot be carried out on you against your will.

2. In case the survivor is below 12 years of age, or if she is unable to provide consent by reason of mental disability, then the parent/guardian’s consent may be taken.

3. Wherever possible, a female doctor must conduct the examination.

4. In case a female doctor is not available, a male doctor should carry out the examination in the presence of a female attendant.

5. In case of a minor or a person with disability, the survivor’s parent/guardian – or anyone the survivor is comfortable with – must be present in the room.

(Source: http://pldindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Manual-for-medical-examination-of-Sexual-Assault-CEHAT.pdf)

Therapy Should be Provided, But Often Isn’t…

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that

…the health and welfare of a survivor of sexual violence is “the overriding priority”, and that the provision of forensic services cannot take precedence over health needs.

This includes psychological support and counselling, but as the HRW report found out, this is rarely done. However, Dr Bhoir at Mumbai’s Police Hospital insists on its importance:

Survivors, in extreme cases, often suffer from PTSD, in which case psychiatric intervention becomes essential. Often, the woman may feel that she has to face the trauma single-handedly and will speak to no one about it, but may face night terrors. She may withdraw completely from her surroundings – or go through stages of anger, denial and sadness.
“Survivors in extreme cases often suffer from PTSD, in which case psychiatric intervention becomes essential,” says Dr Bhoir.
“Survivors in extreme cases often suffer from PTSD, in which case psychiatric intervention becomes essential,” says Dr Bhoir.
(Photo: iStock)

In Meera’s case and in several others, survivors are often traumatised a second time by the very system that was meant to protect them. Perhaps the most we can do, till things change, is to arm ourselves with the knowledge of our rights.

(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)

Follow our Women section for more stories.