Rape survivors and their families face pressure to withdraw complaints


An analysis carried out on country-specific laws and policies related to sexual violence examined in all six South Asian countries found discrepancies in laws and shortcomings in their implementation. The study also found governments falling short in terms of fulfilling their commitments and obligations outlined in international laws requiring the protection and promotion of women and girls' human rights.

In-depth discussions carried out by researchers with target groups, activists and lawyers identified numerous obstacles facing sexual violence survivors.

For a small fraction of survivors who do manage to file police complaint, it is only the beginning of a long and arduous quest to access justice.

The study focuses on rape laws and implementation in six South Asian countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka. The report on 'Sexual Violence in South Asia: Legal and Other Barriers to Justice for Survivors' released by Equality Now, an international human rights organisation, today, reveals how laws across the region are insufficient, inconsistent, and not systematically enforced, leaving women and girls at heightened risk of sexual violence.

According to the report, survivors and victims' families frequently face further victimisation, resulting in extremely low reporting rates for rape, long delays within the criminal justice system, and withdrawal of cases. Conviction rates for rape are extremely low across the region and when survivors do seek justice, they often face insurmountable hurdles within the criminal justice system.

Long delays in police investigations, medical examinations, prosecutions and trials are common. Reports of police officers refusing to file complaints or failing to investigate allegations are widespread in four countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Survivors and other stakeholders said the justice system was vulnerable to bribery and corruption.

Rape survivors and their families frequently face extreme pressure to withdraw criminal complaints and stay silent. They are subjected to social stigma, victim blaming, threats, bribery, retaliation, loss of employment, and eviction, thereby amounting to further violence, warned the report.

Survivors are coerced into dropping legal cases and accepting extra-legal settlements or compromises with perpetrators in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Over 60 per cent of the survivors who were interviewed reported having faced pressure to settle or compromise their case. In some instances, survivors do not receive compensation as promised under these extra-legal agreements.

Survivors of sexual violence from socially excluded communities face even greater barriers to accessing justice as a consequence of caste, tribal, ethnic or religious prejudice and persecution.

While India and Nepal have passed specific laws aimed at preventing and redressing discrimination against certain socially excluded communities, more work is needed across the region to address the intersectional discrimination.

The report has urged the countries in South Asia to take comprehensive action to holistically address the problem of sexual violence faced by women and girls.

The report calls on the government to address protection gaps in the law, improve police response to cases of sexual violence, ensure survivor-friendly medical examinations in rape cases and improve prosecution procedures and trials of sexual offences, among other issues.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 22, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.