Among those Accused of Rape, Known Persons Outstrip Strangers 10 to1

This piece was originally published in The Ladies Finger.

Since the December 2012 Delhi gang rape, sexual violence has been on our collective minds. But how much do we know about rape in this country really? What is the ratio of known vs stranger rapists, for instance? What is the rate of conviction in rape cases? Are most rape charges ‘false’, as is often claimed? How helpful is a medical examination after a rape? And what is the kind of rhetoric employed by judges and defense lawyers in court?

Last month, these questions and others were addressed in a report published by RAHAT, a programme that provides socio-legal support for survivors of rape. RAHAT evolved as a collaboration between Maharashtra’s Department of Women and Child Development andMajlis Legal Centre, Mumbai, in 2013. Since then, they have provided support to hundreds of victims of sexual violence. For this report, titled “Pursuing this thing called justice: A survivor centric approach towards victims of sexual violence” they followed up on 644 FIRs reporting sexual violence, filed between August 2008 and July 2015 by the Mumbai Police, and came up with a report, the highlights of which can be obtained by writing to them at majlislaw AT gmail DOT com.

So what are the highlights of the highlights, so to speak?

The report begins by telling us how this 644-FIR study began: with a change in priorities. This line from the report says it all:

[W]e realized that the focus needed to shift from a conviction driven approach to a victim centric one […]

Flavia Agnes, lawyer, women’s rights activist, and co-founder of Majlis, definitively explains the victim centric approach in this article from last year. To shift the focus of one’s agenda from wanting to punish the rapist towards wanting to empower the victim is a profound move. This statement, that the victim’s healing and empowerment are more important than just getting the rapist thrown in jail, sets an example to us all in the way we approach rape. Yes, justice must be served. But let’s not forget that the victim’s empowerment is also a part of that justice.

Which brings us to the phrase ‘victim-centric approach’: isn’t it politically correct to say ‘survivor’ nowadays? And what’s the difference? Here’s RAHAT to the rescue:

We believe that transforming a victim into a survivor is a long drawn process. It is not a matter of merely changing the vocabulary, while keeping intact an oppressive system which constantly re-victimises the victim, causes her extreme trauma and brings her down several notches in the social ladder than where she was, prior to the abuse. We believe that she becomes a survivor only when she emerges stronger for having passed through this intimidating system, with someone extending a helping hand as she walks through it, and in the process transforms the system itself rendering it more humane.

Now we get to the revealing statistics. The single most unexpected number was the ratio of known vs stranger rapists. Go on, take a wild guess before peeking:

In 9 percent of cases the accused were strangers. In the remaining 91 percent the accused were known persons. This breaks the myth that most rapes are committed by strangers in secluded and dark public places. (Emphasis ours)

(If you were anywhere close to this number, you deserve a medal. Pure gold. With fancy carvings on it.)

Wait, so the story we’ve been told since we were 12 years old, that we’re more vulnerable to rape in deserted places outside our homes, is a myth? Is there anything to corroborate this?

The answer is: yes. Exhibit A: Place Of Offence.

In 60 percent of the cases, the place of offence was the home of the victim or accused or someone known to them.
In 14 percent of the cases it was in a rented room or office.
In 15 percent of the cases the abuse was in a public place.

Chart made using

Chart made using

Exhibit B: Rapes by fathers and step-fathers.

Rapes by fathers/step-fathers constituted 46 percent of family rapes. THEY FORM 7.2 percent OF TOTAL RAPE CASES – ALMOST AS HIGH AS RAPES BY STRANGERS (9 percent).

Hmm. But why would the world lie to teenage girls and women about where they’re most likely to get raped?

Well. The answer is obvious.

Moving on. The report says that rapes by a family member constituted 18 percent of the ‘known rapist’ cases. That’s not so bad, is it? Er…

The sexual abuse within the family is, in fact, far more rampant than these figures reveal. In most cases, the abuse is hushed up, especially the abuse by fathers, who in most cases are also bread winners of the family. Few cases accidentally get reported, and in these cases the victim or her mother face great stigma and are under tremendous pressure to retract. The ones who withstand this pressure and pursue the case do so at great cost to themselves, in terms of financial security and social ostracisation.

Just a minute of thought makes the above very, very believable. So much easier to file a case against a stranger.

This stuff about family members and known persons being rapists is all very shocking. But not more shocking than rape itself, for anyone who hasn’t swallowed those “Yahi hai hamaara suraksha chakra” family toothpaste ads whole. The real heartbreaker is a section of the report titled “Other Vulnerabilities faced by the victim”:

 It is distressing to note that most victims of sexual abuse also suffer from other vulnerabilities and social disadvantages such as poverty, illiteracy, neglect, orphanhood, homeless family living on the street, a child of a single mother or an ailing bedridden mother or where the mother had expired, abusive home environment where the mother is a victim of domestic violence herself, suffering from a disability (physical / mental), giving birth to a child as a result of rape and so on. The fact that most victims come from daily wage earning families and have no steady and fixed source of income, pursuing the case causes them severe financial hardship.

Yet another myth that this report busts is that of the prevailing type of rape: the one-time rape that happens by accident/fate/destiny and changes one’s life forever. But it turns out the reality is far worse:

Long Term Abuse:
In 45 percent of the cases the abuse was continuous (over months and years);
In 12 percent of the cases abuse was repeated (over days)
Only in 38 percent of cases, it was a single incident.

This is the final nail in the coffin of our collective picture of rape, the one involving a stranger, a deserted public place, and a one-time incident. No, it turns out rape is in our homes; it is in our familial relationships; and it is embedded so deep in our collective lifestyle that you and I might even be encouraging it by living, opining, and turning a blind eye the way we do. After this report, we no longer have an excuse to think that rape is ‘out there’, like some disembodied phenomenon that has nothing to do with each and every one of us.

Next, the 5.2 crore question: conviction rates. Of the 644 FIRs filed between 2008-15, RAHAT studied the judgments of trial courts on the cases that were admitted to sessions courts in Mumbai during 2011-12.

Of the 212 judgements that were analysed:
61 percent resulted in acquittal,
32 percent resulted in conviction and
7 percent were part conviction i.e. convicted on a lesser charge.

And now it’s time for some devastating lists that have to be seen to be believed.

This first one is called “Judge’s Comments On Medical Examination”. It’s been a while since something threw up these many questions for me until I was properly, pukka confused about what to think:

Judges’ Comments On the Subject of Medical Examination:
1. There is clearly sexual assault, torn hymen but it cannot be attributed to the accused.
2. Report does not show use of force. Had she resisted there would be injury marks and the report would show that.
3. Tears are old and this nullifies the prosecution case.
4. In some cases, the Judge did not comment on the report.
5. In some cases, the Judge did not comment on why medical exam was not conducted.
6. When the prosecutrix was used to sexual relations, there was no possibility of her sustaining any fresh injuries on her private parts, especially considering that her hymen was torn completely.
7. In cases where injuries were not expected to be found, Judges have held that no injuries did not mean that there was no sexual assault
8. Victim is habituated to sex as she is married, hence medical report cannot help much.

Surely I’m wrong, but either we don’t understand the anatomy of rape, or the anatomy of consent, or both.

This next list is pretty much to be expected, so let’s settle in for some warm and fuzzy familiarity:

Adverse Remarks by Defence Lawyers
1. Delay in filing – She went about her daily routine and did not tell anyone hence this indicates false case.
2. Medical – No fresh injuries on private parts, no signs of rape on her, no signs of struggle. She injured herself.
3. Place – Sex can’t happen in a place like an overcrowded neighbourhood, in a public place like a park, in a slum.
4. Character – She is habituated to sex/ loose moral character/ roams around with boys/ habituated to sodomy.
5. Promise of marriage is not rape.

(About Promise of Marriage cases, the report tells us: “When a girl consents to sexual intercourse under an assurance from a boy that he would marry her, and subsequently, the boy retracts and refuses to marry her, and she complains to the police, a case of rape is filed. This is because under S.90 of IPC a consent given under a misconception of fact is tainted consent and cannot be deemed as ‘free and voluntary’. These cases are categorized as ‘promise of marriage’ (‘PoM’) cases.”)

Now for some more shock and awe in the next section:

Adverse Comments By Presiding Judges
1. Parents should be asked before complaining about rape.
2. Victim did not protest, shout.
3. Victim should have jumped off the bike when she had the chance.
4. Victim had no injuries on her body.
5. No proof of penetration means there was no rape.
6. Victim disclosed only when she was found to be pregnant.
7. Victims were enjoying themselves.
8. Victim had a bad habit, had sex out of curiosity.
9. Victim bunked classes, roamed around with boys, was taken over by infatuation.
10. Despite knowing consequences of keeping relations, she became pregnant.
11. It’s victim’s promiscuity, not misconception of fact.
12. Case is at most breach of promise and not false promise as she knew the consequences.
13. Victim did not say rape she just said ‘ganda kaam’.
14. Rape destroys the very soul and personality of a woman.

But this ain’t the kind of report that’ll just leave it at that. It slices the conviction rates from different perspectives, one of which is the age of the victim:

Age of Victim and Conviction Rate. From RAHAT_Report_Highlights_2015.pdf

The report comments:

For victims in the age group of 0-10 years, the conviction rate appears to be favourable, as the above graph indicates. The ratio between conviction and acquittal begins to change when the victim is in the age group of 11-15 years in favour of the accused and becomes adverse in the age group of 16-18 years. This trend continues as the victim’s age progresses.

No comment from RAHAT as to why they think this is so. Wise of them, but we aren’t that wise. If we were really cynical, we’d suggest that a female child between the age of 0 and 10 years comes across as the most gender neutral and therefore elicits sympathy. Whereas a female child beyond 10 years of age begins to seem, well, female. Which immediately hinders conviction. Wow.

Well. We don’t know if that was traumatic for you, but I could definitely use a tiny something to cheer me up. So I’ll leave you with this nice bit from the report:

Positive Remarks By Presiding Judges
1. Prosecutrix’s sole testimony is sufficient to convict, corroboration is not required.
2. Insisting on corroboration would add insult to the injury.
3. Victim’s conduct is natural.
4. Delay in filing an FIR in cases of father raping daughter is understandable.
5. When a case is reported after a long gap, we cannot look for fresh injuries. This does not render the case false.
6. The evidence is clear, cogent and convincing. It is sufficient to convict.
7. No major inconsistencies in the story, the minor discrepancies must be overlooked.
8. When the victim is child of tender age and the case is reported after a long gap, there are bound to be inconsistencies, which must be overlooked.
9. The FIR is not an encyclopaedia. The victim is bound to offer more details during deposition. It cannot be termed as an “improvement”.
10. There are bound to be inconsistencies between the evidence of the victim and other witnesses.
11. Gesture of a child who does not understand sex are important and must be taken into account.

On that happy note, want to read more? For a full copy of the final report, write to majlislaw AT gmail DOT com. Happy digesting!

PS: For those of you who want to know more about how RAHAT works, here’s a screengrab of their support model as described in the report:

RAHAT’s five-point socio-legal support model. From RAHAT_Report_Highlights_2015.pdf.

RAHAT’s five-point socio-legal support model. From RAHAT_Report_Highlights_2015.pdf.

Read the original piece here.

Featured image credit: ggabernig/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.