Punishment for Sexual Abuse

Every other day I wake up to bad news. There’s always some scam or the other, war, corruption, the most inconceivably brutal murder cases, but the worst of the lot, I feel, is to read about new instances of rape every day. What makes things worse is that so many victims are minors, disabled or particularly vulnerable to attack in some way or the other.

Rape has been witnessed in every civilization in recorded history. I’m sure it has something to do with male superiority, aggression etc. But will we remain as brutes or will our society one day evolve a real system of justice? I shudder to think about the kind of trauma a rape victim must go through. There can never be a more violent, humiliating and wretched act.

I don’t know if there is any way to change a man’s psychological status in a way to prevent him from committing such a crime, but a major consideration could be the most stringent laws and punishment and a judicial system that is sensitive and efficient in ensuring justice to the victim.

Personally, I feel that no amount of punishment could ever really reverse the mental, physical, social and even familial trauma that a victim would go through, but a high rate of conviction in cases of rape, or any kind of sexual abuse, could potentially go a long way in reducing the number of such crimes and relieving the victim to some small extent.

Various issues specific to Indian society can cause instances of sexual assault to go unreported. In most cases the assailant is a family member, or a person known to the victim in some way. Social stigma attached to some illogical notion of ‘family honour’, the completely insensitive and humiliating attitude that the police seem to display most of the time, the difficult procedure for proving a case of sexual assault and even lack of awareness of the redressal mechanism on the part of the victim cause 68 out of 69 rape cases to go unreported in India. The fact that only 20% of these reports result in conviction drastically reduces the benefit of most victims to even attempt to claim some form of justice.

As a woman, I feel that the chances of the perpetrator getting away with a sexual crime should be drastically reduced and eventually brought down to zero. Life imprisonment or even the death sentence in moderate to severe cases would not be too harsh a punishment. The onus should not be on the victim to prove his/her innocence but on the culprit to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there wasn’t even a chance for him to have committed such a crime. Most victims may not have the awareness to get an immediate medical examination and would most probably not even be in the state of mind to do so. A victim really shouldn’t be given the task of overcoming so many obstacles and proving that something so terrible has happened to him/her. Another completely bogus attitude in many cases is that the girl might have had an ‘immoral’ character. No girl or boy wants to be sexually assaulted and nobody enjoys it. And isn’t it really the character of the assailant that’s in question?

One argument against the approach of having strong punishment and a simpler conviction process would be that such strict laws could be misused by women to frame men, but the chances of that happening are undoubtedly much lower than the extremely high number of cases of sexual assaults that take place every day. Also, it would be all the more difficult to prove that someone has been sexually assaulted when they really haven’t.

Today’s women have the opportunities to be independent and aware. Today’s women must demand for a society that will respect them and guarantee their safety. Nothing less.

Shraddha Suresh

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