Anti-rape ordinance

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THE much-anticipated Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020 introduced chemical castration as punishment for rapists. In doing so, however, it missed the very critical point that rape is not merely a physical act, and that it is triggered by many serious social and psychological conditions. More stringent measures are required to deter such crimes.

From a broader view, there are other aspects of the issue that also need tobe looked into with equal urgency. If the prosecutors are competent and willing to take cases to their logical conclusion, they are often, if not always, hampered by the way our police work.As such, in most instances, the prosecution fails toprove the caseinthe courtbecause the police do not provide it with the required evidence.The police in turn fail to do so because the personnel responsible for extracting such evidence the medico-legal officers (MLOs) of public-sector hospitals miserably fail to do their job properly.In rape cases, the timing is of utmost importance. Most of the cases are barely reported in time. Often the victims and their families hurriedly run to the police, rather than to some public hospital, to first establish the incidence of the crime.

But even when they reach the right hospitals, more often than not, they do not find the right person, the MLO, who in most cases happens to be a male.

As for as training is concerned, the MLOs undergo short training in the third year of their medical studies. The actual job of the MLO is to perform a complete physical examination, collect chemical and biological evidence, seal the evidence for chemical/DNA testing, provide first-aid to the victim, issue a medico-legal certificate, refer the case to the police for case registration, and testifying in court.

However, apparently there are no proper standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are followed. Victims are often sent to private laboratories for important medical tests, no standard head-to-toe examination is done thereafter, and no documentation of vital evidence is made.

Undoubtedly, we may have improved our strategy and approach to victims of sexual violence, but we must rethink our attitude and approach towards the horrific crime that permeats our society.

The medico-legal aspect of rape-related cases needs to be urgently addressed.

Written by Shafi Ahmed Khowaja & Dr Pooja Merchant Hyderabad and published by Dawn on 09-02-2024

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