Rape victims struggle to seek justice in Bangladesh

Covered in blood, a garments factory worker was brought by her friend and an auto-rickshaw driver to Mohammadpur police station in the capital on a night in March 2004. A gang-rape case was filed around 1:00am.

Police seized the victim’s pyjamas, chemise, kameez and scarf, all blood-stained, as evidence of the incident, reports Prothom Alo.

The case statement said the garments factory worker was returning home from work around 9:00pm. Two acquaintances came up, covered her mouth with their hands and dragged her to a slope on one side of the road. She was raped there by one of these men, along with two other strangers and the supervisor of a nearby building. They later left her in front of a shop.

Police had detained the supervisor and accused him in the case. The two acquaintances were let off the hook as the police could not find their addresses. The other two unknown persons remained traceless.

The trial has been underway at the women and children repression prevention tribunal-4 in Dhaka for 14 years. The accused supervisor has fled after being released on bail.

There were 14 witnesses of the prosecution. The judge recorded the victim’s deposition in 2005. The deposition of four others, including a physician, was also recorded. But since April 2016, neither the police nor the public prosecutor (PP) could produce any witness before the court.

The girl was treated at the one-stop crisis centre (OCC) of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Later, a non-governmental organisation gave her shelter.

She has been traumatised by the incident.

“For six months she wouldn’t talk to anyone and used to curl up against the wall of a dark room for hours. Her family didn’t stand by her,” said a counsellor at the shelter centre.

Senior researcher of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) Ruchira Tabassum Naved, who has been working for around 20 years on violence against women, said, “Rape victim women or children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTOSD). This is something experienced by those who go to war or go through similar traumas.”

It is very difficult for a victim to emerge from this situation on her own.

“Filing a case or seeking justice is a huge task. The girl needs support from all, especially the family, to do something like that,” Ruchira said.

But the family fears for their honour. They feel that everyone will blame her instead of believing her.

Lawyer Maksuda Akhter, director, advocacy and lobby of central legal aid sub-committee of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said, “This is a practical fear.”

“Everyone”, she said, “tries to resolve the matter in a local salish or arbitration first. The defence lawyer, police, the physician and the prosecution — everyone tries to find fault with the girl if she files a case.”

In another incident, another garments worker filed a gang-rape case with Uttara police station in Dhaka in 2003. The statement said two previously acquainted men told her they had found a good job for her. They took her to a house and raped her there.

Medical reports said she was recently subjected to forceful coition while chemical tests said there was presence of “human semen” on her pyjamas.

The investigation officer of the case submitted a charge sheet against the accused. He, however, also said he has come to learn from “open and confidential investigations” that both the accused had a love affair with the woman, who was abandoned by her husband. Both of them had maintained “anti-social” relations with her.

The judge of the women and children repression prevention tribunal-2 in Dhaka released the accused person after 12 years of starting the trial as police and PP failed to produce any witness including the victim.

According to Prothom Alo findings, out of 5500 cases filed over the incidents of rape, murder after rape and gang rape in the past 15 years, the accused were punished in only 3 per cent of the cases.

The police stations which witnessed the highest numbers of rape cases were located in the areas where the number of poorer people and garments workers is high.

Prothom Alo scrutinised 52 of the cases. Most of the cases were filed by low income persons, either day labourers or housemaids or garments workers.

Proving rape is a very complex process. Negligence in investigations makes the case proceedings lengthy and these lengthy cases hardly see any results.

The findings also revealed that support from the family members of the victims decline due to increasing litigation costs, complexities, and social pressure. This forces the victims to seek solutions outside of the court. Also, the suffering of the victims escalates in course of time as they do not have enough knowledge of the litigation process.

They lose confidence in the judicial process. The atmosphere at the police stations and courts and medical centres are also devastating to the victims, show the findings.

From police stations to hospital

Lawyer Maksuda, who has been in the profession for 30 years, said in the beginning of a rape case, the victims face suspicion. She said, police ask the victims if they went there on their own or if they were paid.

She added that the victims were even branded as professional sex workers.

Maksuda also said, “They are suspected of being involved in a love affair or have had sex with consent.”

Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said a female and child-friendly desk has been opened at every metropolitan police station.

“Female police run the desk. The investigation department has female employees, too,” he added.

DMP’s additional deputy commissioner (Motijheel division) Monalisa Begum said, “We are trying to remove the adverse environment at the police stations. Women-friendly officers are also required.”

“Also, the investigations by the senior officers must be intensive,” she observed.

The Prothom Alo findings also show that during medical tests, the victim’s body and genitals are forcefully examined. This insensitive environment increases the pain of the victims.

Male physicians mostly conduct the medical tests due to lack of female forensic experts. That also discourages most of the victims, the finding added.

The so-called two-finger-test, which has recently been prohibited by the High Court, is conducted to examine the condition of the genitals and hymen of a victim.

Sometimes the physicians write that the girl is habituated to sexual intercourse. According to the forensic experts, the language is unscientific and irrelevant to substantiate rape incidents.

A report on a raped child reads the hymen severed earlier of the rape, which, generally, points to the victim’s morality.

There are allegations of bribery to change forensic reports.

Asked about the matter, forensic expert Sohel Mahmud said the allegation is not true.

Humiliation at the court

The public prosecutors (PPs) at the tribunal said bringing the witnesses or even the victims to court is tough due to the delay in verdict and release.

Tribunal-1’s PP Md Abdul Bari said, “Judges make phone call to the plaintiffs. We also contact them, but they don’t receive our phone calls.”

Lawyer Maksuada said, “The victims need coordinated support along with the case proceedings, which is not available.”

Prothom Alo findings also show that a victim of the much-talked-about Banani hotel rape case could only record her complaint with the police on the third day after being refused twice.

Prohibiting the two-finger-test, the HC asked the judicial court to ensure that the victims are not asked humiliating questions over the rape.

Defence lawyers also try to prove a victim of rape immoral since, according to section 155 (a) of Evidence Act, questions can be raised about the deposition of an immoral victim.

The Supreme Court advocate Shahdeen Malik said rape offence has nothing to do with whether the girl is moral or immoral.

The section actually has added to the harassment of the victim, he observes.

The victim has to recount before the court how she was raped. The prevention act for women and children repression dictates, if the victim wants or the court decides it appropriate, then it can hold a closed-door hearing in this kind of cases.

Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, an experienced lawyer in criminal cases, doubts the number of petitions ever filed over this.

“The PP should ensure the closed door prosecution. It is the PP who must save the plaintiff from obscene questions of the defence party. And, it is the judge’s responsibility to save the victim from being humiliated.”

The security of the witness is also a crucial factor in case of the defence party’s strong political liaison and wealth.

Haunted by fear

The girl was 16-17 years old in 2013. She lived with her parents in Dhaka and was training in tailoring. One of her friends took her to the river Buriganga river for a boat ride one day.

Three men from another boat forcefully boarded their boat and took them to a solitary char (river island). They raped her after tying up her friend. Later, seven more men raped her in turns.

The girl was bleeding and bruised all over. One of the rapists took her to his home. The girl told her sister everything over phone. Her sister came and admitted her to hospital. She also filed a case with Keraniganj police station alleging gang rape.

The physician got rape evidence. The detailed statement the victim presented before the magistrate was horrific.

The police arrested seven perpetrators. Two of them came up with a statement to the magistrate that the girl’s friend had negotiated to hand over her to them for Tk 1,500 and the girl also had consent.

In this case, 10 persons including the friend were indicted. The tribunal-1 has completed recording statement of four witnesses. But, neither the girl nor anyone in the family showed up in court. The lawyers said they were not attending in fear of the defendants.

When the Prothom Alo correspondent went to the girl’s residence, one of her relatives said they left the place soon after the incident. She could not be traced even at her village when the correspondent went there too.

‘False’ case

Aminul Haque Ghani, who moved as a defence lawyer in a number of such cases, says, “Most of the rape cases currently running in the court are to harass people.”

The women and children repression prevention act has given right to file a counter case. But, such examples are rare.

The additional DIG of CID police Sheikh Rezaul Haider said he had seen some false cases filed due to land disputes in villages.

The DMP deputy commissioner Monalisa Begum differed as she found most of the rape cases were genuine. There were exceptions in the cases connected with ‘relationships’ and ‘rape’ she added. “These cases are complicated in character.”

Relationships and promises of marriage

The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act-2000 has defined rape after the section 375 of the 1860 criminal procedure code. It states that, rape involves intercourse with someone other than one’s wife, and over the age of 16, by force or by bluffing.

Intercourse with a girl under 16 years of age is always a rape. Though, it is different in case of a wife. If she is not under 13 the procedure does not have any scope to considering this as a rape.

Many of the police officers and PPs have questions on the issue of bluffs. This section is used for rape cases associated with marriage proposals.

PP Abdul Bari has seen many such cases being filed long after the crime. After coming of age, a girl claims she was picked up, bluffed that marriage was on the cards, and then raped. As a long time elapses following the incident, no evidence is found.

Bari said, “It becomes evident that they lived together willingly. The defendant then says, nothing happened by force.” So the case cannot stand and negotiations take place.

A mother, in a case filed in 2008, complained that a youth known to their family raped her daughter who was a garments factory worker, after assuring her of marriage. They rented a house in Kamrangichar of the capital. The mother filed a case after the girl had conceived.

The girl’s mother and brother said the girl gave birth to a baby while the case was under trial. They settled the matter with the rapist as he agreed to marry her.

As per the settlement, no one went to testify before the court. But the youth left the girl once the Tribunal-2 acquitted him from the case in 2016.

Now he does not even bear her living costs.

Reality of settlement

PP Abdul Bari said, he has seen the instances of acquittal in cases even though there were evidence of gang rape of a minor girl by her “lover” and his “friends”.

Most of the rape victims come from impoverished families. They settle the matter outside court. In some cases, they either testify that no such incident happened or they do not even come forward to testify.

Human rights lawyers said the pressure to negotiate intensifies once the trial procedure delays. The families of victims face different kinds of pressure, to which they ultimately give in.

Dhaka district and session judge court public prosecutor (PP) Khandaker Abdul Mannan said practice of such settlement should be stopped by any means.

The government should strictly oversee the matter so that rape cases are not settled outside the court. Even the court should declare the witness as hostile if he tries to testify in favour of accused.

Settlement benefits all

Investigating some cases, Prothom Alo finds that complainants are not the lone parties involved in the settlement process.

Advocate Maksuda said powerful quarters like local political leaders and elected members of union council generally lobby for the accused. Police and prosecutors remain active in favour of the accused in police stations and courts. They sometimes arrange marriage between the accused and victim. They are financially benefitted from the settlement.

Tribunal-5 PP Ali Asghar claimed they remain in the darkness about the settlement.

“Defendants think that if we inform the PP, he would intervene. And the plaintiff thinks PP would ask for money if he knows about the matter.”

He, however, agrees sometimes three parties get involved in the settlement process.

“If someone is dishonest, it is solely his personal choice,” he added.

Former inspector general of police Nur Muhammad sees the settlement as result of complicity between plaintiff and defendant. He thinks strong supervision by senior police officials could improve the situation.

Lawyer Shahdeen Malik believes the state can easily hasten the process of justice. But it does not bother meting out justice for those poor women.

No one cares!

A 12-year-old girl was raped in 1999. She lived with her aunt in a slum in Dhaka. One day a neighbour took her to some security guards of a building. Two guards raped her on the rooftop of the house.  Then another man raped her.

Police arrested four persons following the filing of a gang rape case with Gulshan police station.

Tribunal-2 began the trial in 2002. But after 17 years, all the accused got acquitted as the police and PP failed to produce any witness. By the time, one accused died.

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This article has been posted by a News Hour Correspondent. For queries, please contact through [email protected]
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