MUMBAI: A detailed study of 644 sexual assault cases in Mumbai between 2008 and 2015, conducted by women’s rights organization Majlis, shows that an overwhelming proportion of the victims are minors.
“Apart from sexual assault, these adolescent girls also suffer from other vulnerabilities such as poverty and illiteracy. Many are from abusive homes. Some are orphans or are brought up by single parents. The rape adds to these vulnerabilities as many have to leave their education, move houses, get pregnant, suffer from injuries or contract HIV,” says Flavia Agnes, director, Majlis.
The study found that convictions were higher for victims aged under 10.
“The ratio between conviction and acquittal begins to change when the victim is in the age group of 11 and 15 years in favour of the accused, and becomes adverse in the age group of 16 and 18 years,” says the study.
By way of explanation, Agnes says this is largely because the justice system is more sympathetic towards minors, and girls under 10 are believed when they are assaulted. Older girls, on the other hand, often face character assassination from the accused.
She goes on to say that acquittals often result in further blaming of the victim, as these are labelled as false cases.
“The legal process serves to revictimize them. When a case ends in acquittal, due to lack of adequate support and systemic lapses, it causes further trauma and humiliation to the victim and pushes the already marginalized further down several rungs of the soco-economic ladder,” says Agnes.
The study shows an overwhelming number of cases where Majlis’s Rahat programme intervened have led to convictions.
While 68% of 154 judgments studied between 2011 and 12 led to acquittals, 68% of the 60 judgments in the past few years, in which the Rahat programme was involved, have led to convictions.
“While our own intervention is a significant factor, other contributory factors are a tilt in the approach of trial court judges during the post-December 2012 campaign towards victims in rape cases and the statutory changes which were brought about, especially the Pocso Act, 2012,” says Agnes.