Students hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the growing incidents of crime against women, Gurugram, on Thursday, December 5, 2019.(Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)
Students hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the growing incidents of crime against women, Gurugram, on Thursday, December 5, 2019.(Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Victims have to relive rape horror at least seven times before trial

The process, which starts with a police officer first taking notes of the victim’s statement to incorporate in the FIR, is lengthy, often gruelling and needs to be revisited and changed at the earliest, legal experts said.
By Anvit Srivastava | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 16, 2019 01:38 PM IST

A rape survivor, till the time of her trial, has to relive her horror at least seven times, before she appears in a court room and is subjected to rounds of cross-examination by the defence lawyers.

The process, which starts with a police officer first taking notes of the victim’s statement to incorporate in the FIR, is lengthy, often gruelling and needs to be revisited and changed at the earliest, legal experts said.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said the current system continues despite the Justice Verma Committee, formed in the aftermath of the December 2012 rape and murder case, recommending against it. She suggested that a rape survivor’s statement should be limited to the one she narrates in the presence of a metropolitan magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“It is unacceptable that no attention has been paid to it [Verma committee recommendations]. Even reformative agencies in the process — such as counsellors roped in by the police and child welfare committee, in case the victim is a minor — have turned out to have added to the trauma in most cases by forcing the survivor to re-narrate her horror,” Kumari said.

Clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra said that the number of times a rape survivor has to recount her experience should be limited to two. The repetitive process, he said, not only has potential to bring gaps in the survivor’s statement but also forces her into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Most rape survivors experience PTSD and recovery is difficult. Meanwhile, discrepancies in statement under such stress can be used against her by the defence lawyers,” said Mitra.

Mitra further said how several rape survivors develop a fragmented traumatic memory because of the repetitive nature of the legal process that makes her relive the trauma. The questions, he said, should also be restricted to basics.

“Often the survivors remember fragments of the incident. We have seen that policemen try to get a rape victim’s statement in sequence. This may help them in building up the case or reconstructing the crime scene. But every time a rape survivor repeats her statement, it is very likely that some crucial parts can get excluded in logically sequencing the episode under stress because she is mentally occupied,” he said.

REPEATED TRAUMA

Police officers, experts working for rehabilitation and legal help of rape survivors, counsellors and lawyers whom HT spoke to, not only demanded a change in the existing law, but explained how a rape victim’s ordeal is not just limited to the moment of crime, but how she relives the details of her assault and that of the criminal, over the next seven mandatory procedures of recording her statement, before the trial begins.

Delhi police officers, whom HT spoke to, say that the first authority a rape victim is introduced to is the investigating officer.

“In case of rape, the IO has to be a woman police officer. After asking her about the case and some basic details of the incident, like time, place, relation with the accused and other things, a counsellor meets the rape survivor at the police station. The counsellor then records her detailed statement in presence of the IO, from the point of investigating the case to zero down on the suspect,” said a woman police officer.

The IO then takes a rape survivor for medical tests. “The doctor who conducts her medical asks details of the incident. Bruises on her body and injuries are documented for medical evidence. Once sexual assault is confirmed, the woman is taken for recording her statement under 164 Code of Criminal Procedure, in front of a metropolitan magistrate,” the officer said.

Once the statement before the metropolitan magistrate is recorded, on the basis of which the trial begins, the rape survivor is introduced to child welfare committee officials for her rehabilitation, the officer added. This is done in order to help her not develop an incident related trauma and be able to lead a normal life.

She said, during all this, the victim also appears before a sub-divisional Magistrate and records her statement again, repeating the details of how the accused looked, how he lured her, how she knew him, how did he start to assault her and other such scarring details. “In cases where the victim is also pleading for compensation, she also visits the Delhi Legal Services Aid to demand appropriate compensation, which formally should be the last mandatory statement in records,” the officer added.

A Delhi police officer, who has investigated many rape cases, said that repeating statements not only affects the survivor mentally but, especially in cases of children, also makes her statement differs every time it is recorded. “These gaps can weaken the legal case of a victim making tough for us to frame charges against the suspects,” she said.

Aslam Khan, a senior IPS officer officer who has worked in Delhi police as a district DCP, said that the questions required to be asked by various officers should be limited to the scope of enquiry. “For example, a doctor conducting her medical should not ask about anything else other than details of assault,” she said.

Khan said, also, a questionnaire can be prepared which the survivor can fill up, if she is educated. Otherwise, NGOs can help the survivor with the procedure. “What actually happens is that the victim needs to travel to all these authorities instead of them coming to her. This is harassment. Many a times, even assigning an IO or a counsellor takes hours,” she said.

There are also ‘one stop centres’ in some districts which were set up to act as an umbrella place for all such legal proceedings to be conducted at one place. However, these are not functional. We must work towards their efficient functioning for relief of victims, Khan said.

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