Among the shouts and hoots compelling reports of offences to be made public in order to be paid attention to and addressed, what have we actually done to encourage victims to be fearless in the pursuit of sharing their stories? Do all the stories that reach the investigative ears actually reach the investigation process? What facade is law making the victims to put up with? Until when will the people of money and power continue to escape their criminal liabilities?
In the United Kingdom, 194,683 number of cases of sexual offences were reported in the twelve month period ending March 2022 out of which 70,330 were of rape according to a survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics. It further supplies the fact that the number of cases referred to the police, brought charges in, prosecuted completely and decided conviction in, have been decreasing since the statistics from the year 2016. The highest percentage of victims reporting the offence comes from the female victims in the military. Female students are about 12% more hesitant than non-student females in reporting assaults upon them to the police. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 690 go unreported.
In the UK again, only 14% of 500 rape survivors beleived that seeking police support would provide them with justice as discovered in a survey by the Victims’ Commissioner. Just 19% of the rape and attempted rape offences are reported anually. Of 55,000 rape reports in 2019/20, just 1,867 cases were charged by the Crown Prosecution Service. 70% of the victims or their representatives admitted that they were the ones who had to run after the information rather than being served with it upfront making the crime reporting scenario less trustworthy. The trend of hostile victims and withdrawal of cases is seeing a towering rising.
In Asian nations, sexual abuses by one’s partner is more prevalent and normalised. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) collected a data that revealed 4 out of 10 women suffered sexual and physical violence from their partner at least once in their lifetime. In Bangladesh, 84% of women have received derogatory and sexual advances in public.UN Women further found that 99% of women in the Middle East country Egypt have exprienced sexul harassment at some point in their lives.
Research by ActionAid in the Latin American state of Brazil uncovered that 84% of surveyed women had been sexually harassed by the police themselves. A survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography in Mexico has shed light on the despairing fact of 96% of the women being sexually violated in public spaces. Street harassment is a huge worry in Australia as well with 87% of women reporting it to be unsafe to walk in the neighbourhood during nighttime according to the Australia Institute.
Legislation in Nepal
The primary provision for handling of sexual harassment cases lies within the books of National Criminal Code and National Criminal Procedure Code 2074. They include the punishments for rape, sexual assaualt, sexual harassment, marital rape and other cases of sexual violence and these provisions have been women-centric. The procedure requires the trials of sexual offences to be private affairs i.e. in camera hearing. Another noteworthy provision in our rape law is pardon or altercation to reduce sentencing shall not be effected for rapists. However, an eight year old case relating to a beauty pageant rape victim mounted pressure on the legislative body of Nepal to change the statute of limitation for rape cases from the limitation of just one year. Now the extended time limit to report a case of rape is within two years from the time of act against an adult female and within three years from the time a minor victim turns 18.
Sexual Harassment (Elimination) at Workplace Act 2071 is a special law that makes the Cheif of any office obligated to take action against sexual abuser within 15 days of complaint registration by the victim and if not, the victim may proceed towards the Cheif District Officer. The perpetrator if found guilty shall face imprisonment of 6 months or Rs. 50,000 fine or both.
The Crime Victim Protection Act 2075 grants victims of any crime with a bundle of following rights to which sexual offence victims are also entitled:
- Right to get fair treatment
- Right against discrimination
- Right to privacy
- Right to information relating to investigation
- Right to information relating to prosecution
- Right to information relating to judicial proceedings
- Right to become safe
- Right to express opinion
- Right to stay in separate chamber in the course of hearing
- Victim impact report may be submitted
- Victim Protection Suggestion Committee
A few case laws have been landmarks in delivering justice to the sexual harassment victims and in changing our perspective regarding the offences of sexual nature:
- Williams v. Saxbe, 1976 (USA): Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment i.e. demand for sexual submissions as a condition of employment was considered a form of sex or gender based discrimination.
- State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh, 1996 (India): Supreme Court advised lower judiciary to not condemn a girl’s character on the basis of her habituation to sex.
- Meera Dhungana v. His Majesty’s Government, 2002 (Nepal): Supreme Court changed the dimension of understanding rape as it ordered the government to amned rape laws in order to include marital rape within offences against women.
- Jit Kumari Pangeni v. Government of Nepal, 2008 (Nepal): Marital rape was accorded non-bailable status which was bailable previously.
- Mukesh & Anr. v. State for NCT of Delhi and Ors., 2017 (India): The famous Nirbhaya case provided death penalty to the perpetrators except the accused juvenile and it started a round of nationwide progressive legislative amendments.
- Atif Zareef v. The State, 2021 (Pakistan): Questioning the victim and discrediting her statements based on her sexual history as discovered by the use of TFT – a virginity and hymen test, was declared unconstiutional.
Women, Business and the Law 2020 disclosed that 50 countries still have no laws to defend women’s sanctity that get compromised by sexual harassment. The solution for the crime of rape is often sought in the compromise of marriage in our patriarchy-infested world. The UN’s annual world population report shows that 20 countries allow the rapists to go scot-free if they marry the victims. In Russia, Venezuela and Thailand, the charge of rape is quashed and the conviction is overturned if the convict agrees to marry the women they assaulted.
The Supreme Court of India has provided directions to the trial courts for ensuring maximum safety and freedom from further frustration to the female victims while reporting and while the prosecution of their offenders is ongoing. For this in camera trials, instalments of screens to provide the victim woman an option of not facing their perpetrator and a provision of making the accused leave the room while the aggrieved woman gives her testimony have been brought into practice.
Suggestions and Conclusions
Anti-sexual offence laws alone have never seemed enough to curb this widespread danger to humanity. Implementation track is always hurdlesome especially when the victims themselves are emboldened to speak against the wrongs they faced. Women who are strong are women who need to be silenced. This is what the common notion is. We must be mindful that all the consented sexual activities are not ‘welcome’ behaviours. Subjection of women to sexual favours in return of opportunities is a shunnable offence. It is high time we separate women’s employment, their performance and character assessment from their physical endowment.
The society must learn to make itself safe for its women, to educate its male members (commoners and officials alike) to empathise with women’s trauma, to empower the female population to move beyond shackles of cultural subjugation, to believe women when they share the stories of their pain and to pave a way for effective, efficient, fair and speedy hearings of sexual harassment cases.