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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

The fear of conviction deters sexual violence

In our experience of working with thousands of survivors of sexual abuse over the last decade in Madhya Pradesh, we have realised that the only way to prevent a crime of sexual violence against children or women is through faster convictions.

analysis Updated: Feb 21, 2019 07:44 IST
Ashif Shaikh
Ashif Shaikh
A child takes part in a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, Kathua, 2018. Sexual violence remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations.
A child takes part in a protest against the rape of an eight-year-old girl, Kathua, 2018. Sexual violence remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations.(HT File Photo )

On February 11, 2019, a local court in Sikar, Rajasthan sentenced a 28-year-old man to life imprisonment for raping a four-year-old girl. This was among the most expedited convictions in a Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) case where the accused was held guilty within 12 days of filing the First Information Report (FIR).

In my experience of working with survivors of sexual abuse in Madhya Pradesh (MP), I realised that the only way to prevent sexual violence against children and women is through swift convictions and by ensuring that the maximum number of sexual offenders get punished.

Sexual violence against women and children remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations. In 2016, the number of reported cases of crimes against women in MP was 26,604; for children, the number stood at 13,746. Most victims do not report cases of abuse due to fear and a general lack of trust in authorities.

The solution is rooted in the psychological concept of “deterring demand”. The Massachusetts Treatment Centre Rapist Typology, one of the most robust typological systems, uses motivation as a dimension to describe different types of sexual offenders, such as: opportunistic, angry, sexually non-sadistic, sexually sadistic and vindictive, among others. A deeper look into these motivations suggests that a majority of offenders have the intelligence to differentiate between right and wrong. Experts believe that while multiple programmes and interventions can be designed to assist the victim and prosecute the offender, the victims remain mentally scarred throughout their lives. But can deterrence prevent the crime before it’s committed? Deterrence, a theory in behavioural psychology, talks about preventing or controlling actions or behaviour through fear of punishment or retribution. Taking from this theory, we believe that a higher probability of conviction, severity of punishment and public condemnation can actually help deter crimes of this kind.

My experience in MP also showed that capital punishment can lead to underreporting of such cases. It was observed that the fear of death sentences pressures victims to drop their cases. A recent survey by the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan reveals that out of 150 children and women victims of sexual violence, 95% did not report it to authorities — despite the fact that the reporting rate has gone up in past few years. In cases of community-based prostitution, the community itself pressures the victims to drop the case as offenders — who sometimes are relatives of the child victims — could get the death penalty under the POCSO Act. We learnt that the only way out of this is through fast convictions as it was proved that news about fast convictions and a higher rate of them have proved to deter offenders.

Some of the basics need to considered are: Training of the police officers to file the correct charge sheet, mentioning the POCSO Act in the FIR; sensitising the legal fraternity to ensure faster convictions; supporting survivors through legal aid; better funding and setting up of more POCSO courts to decrease the case-pendency rate across all states.

Ashif Shaikh is convener of Rashatriya Garima Abhiyan and has led campaigns for eradication of the practice of manual scavenging, and empowerment of the Dalits, especially Dalit-Muslims and women

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 21, 2019 07:44 IST

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