New norms for sensitive treatment of rape victims

Written By Unknown on Sabtu, 20 April 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: The comprehensive protocol on the examination of sexual assault victims has recommended doing away with the insensitive two-finger test and unscientific practices such as giving undue importance to the build of the victim. The protocol, drafted by a panel set up by the state public health department, will pave way for more sensitive treatment of rape victims, and lays down guidelines on the collection and preservation of samples.

The absence of a specific protocol had come into sharp focus during the death of three minor sisters in Bhandara in February. The department's report said the sisters were sexually assaulted and murdered, while forensic experts stated that they had drowned. The government ultimately had to accept the report of the forensic experts.

In several other cases of sexual assault, too, the evidence submitted by the public health department was found to be grossly inadequate.

Faced with criticism by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court, the department set up a five-member panel headed by forensic expert Sudhir Nanandkar to draft a new protocol. The court directive came after Nagpur-based social worker Ranjana Pardhi brought to the notice of the high court that there was absolutely no uniformity in the procedure followed in the examination of sexual assault victims, resulting in confusion over the reports submitted by medical officers. It was contended that by and large, the reports were casual and there was a lack of seriousness in examining the victims.

Apart from Nanandkar, the panel comprised gynaecology professor Rekha Davar, associate professor A P Khandekar, medical officer Ashok Nandapurkar and police surgeon S M Patil. The committee's report draws from the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, the report of the Justice J S Verma panel and the new criminal law.

"It was assumed that if the victim's build is strong, then the chances of sexual assault were low. The panel found that such a concept was unsound, since even if a woman is of strong build, she will not raise an alarm if she is terrorized," a senior bureaucrat told TOI on Thursday.

Also, in a first, elaborate instructions have been given on how to collect samples and preserve them. "So far, there were no guidelines. As a result, the medical officer on the spot used to take his own decisions. Now, we have prescribed specific procedures for collection and preservation of samples, along with a comprehensive check list," he said.

Secondly, the bureaucrat said, the medical officer will now have to record the type of assault and injuries of the victim, whether it was a normal intercourse or non-penetrating assault and any signs of struggle. The medical officer will also have to submit a specific report on sexual assault instead of just observing that there was doubt over sexual assault on the victim.

"In several cases, it was found that the medical officers had submitted almost identical reports, saying just one word 'habitual'," the bureaucrat said. The allusion was that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse, weakening sexual assault charges. "Now such reports will not be accepted. We have given them a permutation and combination of 12 options. They will be able to conclusively say whether a woman was sexually assaulted or otherwise," he said.

Above all, the bureaucrat said there will be no need for a victim to approach the police for requesting a medical examination. Instead, she can directly approach the public health centre or a hospital for examination and then inform the police.

"We will submit the recommendations to the high court and then issue a notification. It will then be applicable all through the state. As a result, there will be uniform examination of victims of sexual assault, and the accused too. Since a specific format has been proposed, there will be no scope for either wrong or casual reporting," he said.

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