Hostile environment forces rape victims to withdraw cases

  • Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 09, 2014 02:26 IST

Considering the way a rape victim is treated in court and outside, experts say it is a surprise that more women do not turn hostile during the trial.

Humiliating questions, insensitive defence lawyers and open courts that do nothing to make a rape victim comfortable are what they have to face. For a victim who decides to go ahead and fight for justice in a court of law, the trauma of rape has to be lived till the trial is over.

“Turning to the criminal justice system here is very traumatic. From the time you file a complaint to the time that the trial concludes, it is an uphill task for the woman to fight. Women can file a complaint against the police official who refuses to file her complaint but not a lot of people know this,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court lawyer.

Even today, experts say, investigators as well as defence lawyers, bring up a woman’s attire when it comes to rape cases.

“A Yale study clearly showed how the quantum of punishment in rape cases varied if the woman was married, unmarried and a virgin or if she was in a relationship,” Nundy added.

Another issue is the pressure that families put on girls to withdraw their complaints.

“A number of women we work with are dependent on their families for sustenance and support. When these families do not support them, there is no option to withdraw the case or turn hostile,” said Sunita Thakur, a lawyer who works with women’s organization Jagori.

She also points to how women have to choose their job over the court case very often and in such cases, it is the job that wins.

Nundy points out how there is no effective witness protection programme that can protect women.

“If the families are supporting the women, it is usually the accused out on bail or his family members who are harassing her. Add existing mental trauma to that and the situation becomes very difficult for women to keep fighting the case,” she said.

Some things, however, have changed.

“At least now laws are there and the awareness about these laws has increased. Also, women’s confidence has gone up when it comes to reporting crime. They have realized that they have the right to bodily integrity. Personally, things have changed for many people. Sadly, we don’t see this happening in law enforcement,” Nundy said.

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