A total of 4,541 rape cases were filed with the One-Stop Crisis Centers (OCC) in eight districts of the country over the last 16 years.
Most of the victims fail to get justice due to shoddy investigations by the police and other departments which result in lack of adequate evidence.
In 2001, the government started the OCC under multi-sectoral programme in country’s eight districts-Dhaka, Rajshahi, Chittagong, Sylhet, Barisal, Khulna, Rangpur and Faridpur- to provide legal assistance to victims of repression against women and children.
According to the statistics, a total of 1,229 cases among the 4,541 were settled till date. A total of 60 accused were indicted in those cases. And 73 per cent of the cases are yet to be solved.
An official of the multi-sectoral programme, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that none of the government organs were properly functioning competently enough to provide justice for the rape victims.
The same reaction came from the forensic medicine experts and the others in the police headquarters.
According to statistics of police headquarters, a total of 3,648 women were raped last year. In 2012 this figure stood at 3,700. In 2013 it was 3,891, in 2014 it was 3,647, and in 2015 it was 3,622. Officials said there were few cases filed regarding the incidents, and even less settlements.
Harassment while seeking justice
Most of the victims remain mum after the incident due to pressure from their families and the society. Some also face harassment while seeking justice.
A woman in Dhaka filed a rape case in 2012. Speaking with Prothom Alo on Tuesday, she said, “Police at first confused me about whether the incident took place at Lalbagh or Hazaribagh. I filed a case with the Hazaribag police station after eight hours of the incident. The police then told me that they will take my photograph and I was hesitant.”
“The police started taunting me, saying I wan’t hesitant to file a rape case, but hesitated to take a picture”, said the victim.
She later continued the case with family support. The prosecutor’s lawyer falsely accused her of being a sex worker.
Most of the time close relatives of the victim do not support them.
A 14-year old was raped by motorbike riders last Thursday. Locals caught an accused from the spot and handed him over to police. The victim is in police custody. Her father did not even come to meet her. He said it was shameful for the family and that his daughter’s future was now precarious.
Reason for no justice
There are certain steps to be followed in rape cases. If a rape victims needs counseling, she can call 09, the number of the national helpline centre for the prevention of women and child repression. Then the victim needs to visit her local police station. The investigative officer will be ‘sympathetic’ to the victim and the police station will have a woman-friendly environment to assist the victim woman or child. Police will assist the victim woman (or child) with the medical examination. The police will submit the charge sheet within the timeframe. The Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal have to conclude the judgment within 180 days. Ground reality is different.
Officials of the forensic medicine department, officals related to the women and children affairs ministry, the police and the state prosecutor accused each other for not providing sufficient support to ensure justice for the rape victims.
Multi-sectoral programme project director Abul Hossain said, “Lack of sufficient proof deprives the vitims of justice. Evidence is most important in rape cases. The rape victim should call 109 to know what to do.”
An official from the women and children affairs ministry said it would have been possible to help Rupa who was raped and killed on a bus in Tangail, if she had called 109 while travelling alone in the bus.
This correspondent called 109 on Tuesday and had to wait eight and a half minutes to talk before an an official answered the call. The voice of the person on the other end of the phone was unclear.
Accused of insensitivity
Victims also accused police of insensitivity. Asked what police do when a victim goes to file a rape case, a police official from the headquarters, on condition of anonymity, said all police stations do not have round-the-clock women police on duty.
The police official said a rape victim has to face the duty officer first when filing a case. It is invariably a male officer on duty. The police mostly file the case under Section 290.
Cases under Section 290 are filed when a person is arrested for illicit physical relations.
State prosecutor for the women and children repression prevention tribunal, Mahmuda Akhtar said, “Cases pile up as police are not able to produce witnesses in time. Proper medical reports are also not available at times.”
Questions regarding medical examinations
Bangladesh medico legal society president AM Selim Reza said most of the time medical examinations of the victims are delayed which damages the evidence. No one is concerned about this.
Meanwhile, many other countries also have provision to caarry out medical examination of the accused rapist.
A woman struggles and tries to save herself while being raped and so the rapist often has marks on his body. Both the rape victim and accused will carry matching DNA samples.
There is also a fear about the ‘two-finger test’.
Jagannath University teacher Farzana Shubhra, who also works with Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), criticised the ‘two-fingers test’. In this test, a doctor inserts two fingers inside a woman’s vagina to test whether the hymen is intact or not. If not, then the medical test report says, ‘sexually active’, which the lawyer of the accused uses to accuse the victim of being immoral.
India changed this law in 2003, but it is still effective in Bangladesh.
Executive director of Bangladesh Mohila Ainjibi Samity, Salma Ali said firstly the forensic medicine department has to be more efficient as most of these departments in the country are in a poor condition.
Government monitoring of the rape cases is also needed for this, she added.
*This piece, originally published in the printed edition of Prothom Alo, was rewritten in English by Saimul Huda