Take Two

The Technicalities of Rape

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A 12-year-old girl says she’s been raped. A medical examiner contradicts her, saying there isn’t enough physical evidence.

Recently the case of a 12-year-old girl who said she was systematically raped over one-and-a-half years by some nine people made headlines in Mumbai newspapers. She lived with her aunt, whose son is the main accused, along with his friends and other neighbourhood monsters, including a 71-year-old grandpa. While most newspapers followed the now-essential journalistic etiquette of qualifying the verb ‘rape’ with the adverb ‘allegedly’, many papers missed the point entirely. One tabloid ran the headline: “Medical Tests Show 12-year-old… Girl Was Not Raped”.

In the latter case, the news report was based on a medical examiner’s claim that the victim’s hymen is intact and the two injuries she displays are self-inflicted. Is rape as crude as damaging the hymen? Is rape a technicality?

When someone is raped in India, a verdict is passed by 1 billion people, or at least by as many people who chance upon the details. Medical examiners, like law enforcement officials, aren’t above the misconceptions and prejudices of the society they inhabit. Everyone, including the police and medical examiners, has a pre-set notion of what a rape victim ought to behave like. For example, the victim must be visibly distraught, emotionally shattered, and must display injuries or signs of resistance.

The doctor and the tabloid concerned not only reveal their chauvinistic undertones, but also their ignorance. In some cases, penetration is impossible as the child isn’t even physically mature enough for intercourse.

The Supreme Court has on numerous occasions said that the victim’s testimony in a rape trial is sufficient evidence, even in the absence of supportive medical backing. For instance, in the case of Bharwada Bogibhai Hirjibha vs State of Gujarat (1983), the Supreme Court judge said, “Why should the evidence of the girl or a woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with the aid of spectacles tinged with doubt or disbelief? To do so is to justify the charge of male chauvinism in a male-dominated society. On principle, the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands on par with the evidence of an injured witness.”

So when a media report says in its headline that tests show that the 12-year-old girl wasn’t raped, it isn’t just callous, it even goes against the pronouncement of the Supreme Court.

In a rape trial, if the accused is acquitted, it doesn’t mean the rape didn’t take place. It just means that the prosecution failed to prove the charge. In a country where, according to some statistics, a rape takes place every 54 minutes, such irresponsible statements by doctors make justice a distant dream.