March 30, 2010

Times of India

Abuse is rampant, but under wraps

MUMBAI: For a 13-year-old Saki Naka resident, it was nightmarish to return home from school when his mother would not be around. His uncle who had been staying as their guest would not let go of any opportunity to sexually abuse him during two years of his stay with the family.

In these two years, Ankit (name changed) was abused to the extent that he had started doubting his sexuality. He thought he was a woman and that was why his uncle was abusing him again and again, said a counsellor from acivic-run hospital. Unfortunately, counsellors feel there are many like Ankit in the city, but only a handful even reach a professional counsellor.

A child abuse study by the ministry of women and child development in 2007 revealed that as many as 53.22% of 12,447 children and 2,324 young adults surveyed had faced some or the other form of sexual abuse. It further stated that about 21.90% of child respondents reported facing severe sexual abuse while 50.76% other forms of sexual abuse. Worse, 50% of abusers were known to the child. Many feel this is where societal pressure seeps in and parents too become reluctant to pursue the matter. Parents are still in denial, and though a steady change in mindset is noticed, majority do not seek any legal action, said Pooja Taparia of Arpan, an NGO working against child abuse.

Child abuse is widespread, say experts. Social psychologist Chandni Parekh said, “This pervasive evil cuts across all socio-economic backgrounds,’’ adding that there is no specific profile for both victims as well as abusers. Speaking of its prevalence in communities, Parekh said in workshops held in schools, several students send across queries. For instance, a student had asked confidentially if it was normal for a teenaged girl to have physical relations with an aged man, she said. Parekh added that after such workshops many students have spoken out about abuse.

Harish Iyer, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, felt that certain practices in society need to change. The most fundamental error is to give nicknames to private parts, he said adding that if a child is taught to call eye an eye, then why not teach them about private parts. Sex education can be a key to this problem because they will help children to differentiate between right and wrong touch and behaviour, he suggests. Moreover, he said the biggest myth was that only girls were abused.

Iyer, in the course of his interaction with victims of child sex abuse, said there may not be many survivors. But even if they kill themselves, the reason behind their death will stay under wraps, he said.

A bigger concern though lies in the neglect of the mental health of victims of child abuse. Parents themselves are reluctant to take them to counsellors or follow up with doctors, said Taparia.

Hindustan Times

State mulls protocol for rape victims at hospitals

Mar. 27--MUMBAI -- Major hospitals across the state, including Nagpada Police Hospital, which conducts medical tests in a majority of rape cases in the city, could soon have a uniform protocol on collecting evidence from sexual assault victims.
These hospitals would also need to provide medical treatment and psychological support for victims.
This protocol may include the use of a special kit -- the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) collection kit -- developed by non-governmental organization Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT). It was successfully pilot-tested at the civic-run R N Cooper Hospital, Vile Parle, and Rajawadi Hospital, Ghatkopar, between March 2008 and April 2009.
CEHAT representatives met state officials 10 days ago with the results of pilot project.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chandra Iyengar said the government is "taking it forward."
Senior surgeon Dr SM Patil, in charge at Nagpada Police Hospital, said they are preparing a proposal for the state government. "If it is approved, the kit and protocol will be uniformly introduced at all major hospitals," he said.
The SAFE kit, an adaptation of the Ontario Police kit used in Canada, contains cotton swabs, gloves, nail cutter and other paraphernalia required for collecting evidence from victims. The kit was tested on 20 victims, including eight minors, at Cooper and Rajawadi Hospital. CEHAT found the kit helps collect a higher quality of evidence.
Currently, there is no protocol for collection of evidence in hospitals. During the pilot test, researchers found that provision of care often takes a backseat as sexual assault is seen as a "medico-legal case" and that doctors don't bother to seek the victim's consent at every stage of the examination.
"We want the government to introduce a model in which victims are provided care, counseling and treatment for short-term and long-term heath consequences," said CEHAT's Padma Deosthali.
How was 12-year-old's med report leaked? Non-governmental organisation CEHAT has raised questions about the leak of the medical examination report of the 12-year-old Sakinaka gang rape victim from the Nagpada Police Hospital.
CEHAT representatives called the revelation "an absolute violation as the doctor works for the prosecution and does not have the authority to reveal any information to a third party without prior permission of the investigating officer or the court."

Hindustan Times

Rs 67 cr lying unused in child fund, adoption centre tells HC

A corpus of Rs 67 crore, which is to be used for the rehabilitation of rape victims or children in distress, is lying unutilised with the National Child Fund (NCF).
The Central Adoption Resource Centre, an auton-omous body under the Ministry of Women and Child Develop-ment responsible for keeping a check on international adoptions, brought this to the Bombay High Court's notice on Friday.
Justice D Y Chandrachud asked why was the money not being used to rehabilitate children.
The high court also directed the adoption resource centre to complete the final draft of the international adoption policy so that the court can finalise the guidelines.
Justice Chandrachud asked the adoption resource centre to file an affidavit within three weeks.
The HC had asked the adoption resource centre to include a corpus or fund for children who are repatriated and require rehabilitation and its proper disbursement.
The adoption resource centre had refused to set up another fund saying there's already the NCF.
However, the same cannot be used for the rehabilitation of repatriated children, as there is no such category in the National Child Fund.
Advocate Vishal Kanade, who is appearing for the federation of adoption agencies in Maharashtra, pointed out that the NCF had a category for children in distress.
"If not the corpus, then give some concrete safety net which can be used in cases where children are repatriated.
Someone has to take their responsibility," said Justice Chandrachud.
In a related development, 14-year-old Anita (name changed), who was repatriated in June 2008 after a failed adoption in the United States, is adjusting well at the shelter home in Gurgaon.
A Massachusetts-based couple had adopted Anita and her sister Sonia (8) in 2006.
However, the couple sent an application seeking revocation of their guardianship of Anita after she developed behavioural problems.
A report submitted by Nigama Mascarenhas, director of the Family Service Centre, said Anita she is eating and taking her medication on time.
"She also helps younger children with their studies," the report said.

Times of India

Can a woman rape a man?

The government recently decided to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and replace the word “rape” with “sexual assault’’. The proposal would make the offence of rape gender-neutral. But can a government change the meaning of the word “rape”?

Can a man rape a man? Can a woman rape a woman? And finally, unimaginably, can a woman rape a man? Even dictionaries offer gender-specific meanings for rape.

So, does that make a nonsense of the amended IPC? Flavia Agnes, Mumbai-based lawyer and activist, says it is certainly far-fetched. “To presume that women can rape men is rather outrageous,” says Agnes. “While women can sexually harass men, they can’t sexually assault them. There have been no such cases anywhere.” In fact, rape is a “deeply gendered construction”, with several social implications for women such as stigma, she adds.

One rape case is registered every 54 minutes somewhere in India. Many more incidents go unreported. Take the case of 19-year-old Sulabha Rani* from Uttarakhand’s Chamoli village. In 2004, her uncle took her to Dehradun to work as a domestic help. He sold her to two men who raped her in a moving car. The next morning, she found herself lying half-naked and bruised on a sidewalk. Back with her parents now, and with her uncle absconding, Sulabha reportedly hasn’t been able to leave her bed or utter a word since that day.

Then there is Radha, an Agra college student, who tried to take on a bunch of rowdy goons making lewd remarks about passing girls. One evening, as she returned from college, Radha was raped by the goons, who said they were punishing her for her ‘bravery’.

So, can a woman ever do the same to a man? Agnes says rape is not just a physical assault, but an expression of power and control by men over women. “As we do not live in a gender-neutral society, having a gender-neutral rape law will only make the situation worse for women, as many may get accused of rape,” she says.

Legal experts are apprehensive the IPC amendment will open the floodgates for other gender-neutral laws, such as those governing domestic violence, dowry death, cruelty to wives or even maintenance to women after a divorce.

But some aspects of the proposed amendment are being welcomed. Sexual assault is to cover crimes such as sodomy, insertion of a foreign object and other offences that are not currently covered by the legal definition of rape. The rape law was amended in 1983 and ever since, women’s groups have campaigned for a law on sexual assault, which would cover issues of incest and non-penetrative child sexual abuse.

Author-activist Pinki Virani, who filed a plea for the mercy killing of Aruna Shanbaug, a paralysed and brain-dead Mumbai nurse who was attacked and raped in 1973, says, “The amendment may not help women too much but it will help minor victims. I’m glad boys will be included in the category of victims who can be sexually preyed upon by older men without sodomy being the only criteria of boy-rape.”

The provisions can also help in cases such as that of Ruchika Girhotra, who was sexually molested by Haryana DIG, SPS Rathore as a teenager, 19 years ago. Aradhna Gupta, who fought for justice for her dead friend, says this is a commendable move. Speaking to STOI from Sydney, Gupta says: “Now, more culprits can be booked for committing heinous sexual crimes. Had it happened two decades back, Ruchika would have been alive.”

Virani says the amendment raises questions about whether cases pertaining to children can be clubbed with adults. What about incest, arguably more traumatic than a single assault by a total stranger?

Agnes says the government must take these complexities into account before amending the law of the land governing rape.

*The names of victims have been changed


Government aims to stop courtroom torment of rape victims

New Delhi: Manufacturing doubts about the character of a rape victim on the basis of her past record — concocted or otherwise — in courtrooms has been an old trick with lawyers defending the culprit in such cases. The mental harassment inflicted on the victim through the legal process aiming to cast aspersions on her character is often more damaging than the original crime against her.

The Centre wants to correct this. It is seeking to amend section 146 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The proposed changes, sources said, will bar lawyers to adduce evidence or put questions during the cross examination of a victim that talk about her general immoral character, her previous sexual experience with any person proving her consent or the quality of consent during trial for rape or sexual assault.
Besides, a new section, 53A, would be added in the act to ensure that the moral character of the victim and her previous sexual experience are not relevant to the issue of her consenting for sex with the accused during the trial. These proposed amendments are being examined by a committee headed by home secretary GK Pillai.
The law commission had recommended such amendments in 1983. The Supreme Court, too, had felt the need for corrective action while holding that a victim of rape can’t be treated as an accomplice in the crime.
Changes are also planned in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to specify that in cases of rape, sexual assault and molestation, the statement of a victim would only be recorded by a woman police officer or a woman government official, in the absence of whom it would be recorded by a recognised female social worker. The trial would also be conducted before a woman judge, as far as possible.
“We find that the victim is so disturbed that she shies away from talking in detail about the incident. There are questions put to her that make her relive those moments again and again. It would be fair to bring these amendments and allow fast-track trials by women judges,” said justice Geeta Mittal of the Delhi high court.

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