It could pass for just another medical kit. But it’s a useful tool that could nail a culprit in a sexual assault case.
Comprising cotton swabs, gloves, a nail cutter and other paraphernalia it can help doctors collect evidence from sexual assault victims.
The kit could hold the key to improving the conviction rate for rapes in India. Less than four per cent cases end in conviction, often due to lack of conclusive evidence.
Developed by a local non-governmental organisation, the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) collection kit has been successfully pilot-tested on 20 victims, including eight minors, at the civic-run RN Cooper Hospital, Vile Parle and Rajawadi Hospital, Ghatkopar.
The kit was devised by Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), along the lines of one used by the police in Ontario, Canada.
After learning of the project’s success, the Nagpada Police Hospital, which deals with the most sexual assault cases, is considering adopting the kit.
“We will put up a proposal to the state government,” said Police Surgeon Dr S.M. Patil.
CEHAT’s Sangeeta Rege said the kit had helped collect “higher quality evidence and ensure nothing is left out”.
“Hopefully, it will increase chances of conviction when the cases reach court,” said Rege.
Gynaecologist Dr Nikhil Datar, who was part of the pilot project at Cooper Hospital, said the kits were especially handy when victims were brought at unearthly hours.
“Sometimes, things like a nail cutter might not be available at the hospital. The dirt from the nail is important forensic evidence and may be lost by the next morning,” said Dr Datar.
CEHAT collaborated with civic authorities to implement the kit at the two suburban hospitals from March 2008 to April 2009. The project was completed around the time when the Delhi High Court made it compulsory for all public hospitals in Delhi to use such kits.
Currently, there is no uniform protocol to collect evidence in the city.
During the pilot study, CEHAT researchers noticed several anomalies in the hospital system and in the process of gathering evidence.
They found that sometimes doctors unnecessarily took vaginal swabs.
“One woman was sure that penetrative sex had not occurred but doctors forced her to undergo an internal examination,” said Rege.
Researchers also found that offering psychological support takes a backseat as sexual assault is viewed as a ‘medico-legal’ case.
“Doctors don’t bother to seek the victim’s consent at every stage of the examination and were not aware that victims have a right to seek treatment without filing a police complaint,” said Padma Deosthali from CEHAT.
“For instance, a 12-year-old who looked older than her age was put through 11 x-ray tests to determine her bone age. It may be vital for the case but it was traumatic for the girl,” said Deosthali.
Dr Seema Malik, chief superintendent of suburban civic hospitals, said they would continue to use the kits at Rajawadi and Cooper hospitals.