Five years ago, India was shocked by the brutal gang rape and murder of a medical student in New Delhi. The government promised change and introduced legal reforms and support services to help victims of sexual violence, including fast-track courts, one-stop crisis centers for women, and guidelines for medical and legal care for victims.

But reporting rapes has always been fraught, with the stigma of sexual assault so severe that every attempt is made to keep it silent or just blame the victim.

The report

A new report by Human Rights Watch, however, revealed Wednesday that little has changed. Victims of rape and sexual assault are still subjected to humiliation, doubt and hostility when they try to report their experiences.

The report examines 21 cases, 10 of those involving girls under the age of 18, and those interviewed spoke about how police and medical professionals questioned victims’ moral character and why they were out alone at night.

Unresolved issues

  • Doctors who are supposed to provide rape victims with free medical care often forced them to undergo unnecessary “two-finger tests” checking victim’s vaginas “to make degrading and unscientific characterizations” about women’s promiscuity.
  • Many reported police officers were unwilling to record complaints, instead pressuring victims to privately find a compromise with the perpetrator.
  • Legal assistance and legal aid were not offered to any of the 21 victims despite a Supreme Court ruling that police should provide such assistance and keep a list of legal aid options.

A patriarchal society

As researcher Madhumita Pandey noted after interviewing 100 convicted rapists in Indian prisons, the men were not outliers but rather products of the society.

“They are really ordinary. What they’ve done is because of upbringing and thought process,” she said.

Out of all the interviews, Pandey recounted only three or four saying they were repentant.

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