Monday, 22 January, 2018, 3:56 PM
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When a patient is victim of rape

BD needs 'rape shield' laws

Published : Friday, 12 January, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 140

BD needs 'rape shield' lawsNow a days we are covering news where woman after woman, young and old, are narrating their stories of shame -- of how they were raped, in many case not once or twice but repeatedly by the rapist. Take the recent example of a doctor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) who has been sued for reportedly raping his patient, a Higher Secondary level female student hailing from Bhola. The accused Riad Siddique, 52, a dermatologist of the hospital, has been absconding since the victim's father filed a rape case with Shahbagh Police Station under Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act.
Quoting the first information of the case, Officer-In-Charge (OC-investigation) Zafar Ali Biswas, told the press that Riad Siddique used to go for private practice in Bhola every Friday. He asked the girl to come to Dhaka for better treatment, the OC said. The girl had been suffering from skin-related complications on her throat.
In the pretext of treatment, the doctor confined her inside a room on 14th floor of Block-B of the hospital and "raped" her on December 31 last year and threatened to kill her if she discloses the incident. She was admitted to the One-stop Crisis Centre (OCC) of Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Thursday. "Primary evidence of rape has been found in the forensic test," said Bilkis Begum, the coordinator of OCC. Riad allegedly raped the girl on multiple occasions from October 10 last year to December 31, the OCC coordinator also said.
Now it's time for the prosecutors to take effective steps for the speedily hearing and finishing the trial proceedings of the case filed for rape instantly after the police submit the investigation report to the court. Trial proceedings of rape cases should be finished quickly and the prosecutors should take action to this effect.
Despite being a heinous crime, sexual offences, specially cases of rape, mostly go unreported in Bangladesh. There are numerous reasons for this to happen. The biggest hurdle appears to be the adversarial court proceeding which is lengthy, complex and even fails to offer adequate protection to the victims of sexual offences. Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 allows the defence counsel in a rape case to show that the victim was of generally immoral character in order to impeach her creditworthiness in a court.
While it is understandable that the burden of proving the offence of rape rests with the prosecution and the presumption of innocence lies in favour of the accused, it is utterly degrading and humiliating for the victim.
Almost as old as 150 years, section 155(4) is no doubt an archaic law which requires significant reform. Bangladesh is in need of 'rape shield' laws which prevent questioning the victim about her past sexual morality or behaviour except in rare circumstances.
Such laws also prohibit the publication of the personal details of the victim. Rape shield laws are common in various jurisdictions including, but not limited to, Australia, Canada, United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, Scotland, Singapore and India.
Most of these jurisdictions carried out rigorous law reform process to protect victims of sexual offences from being questioned about their character recognising the prejudicial impact of adducing bad character evidence.
With day and age, Bangladesh as a society is becoming more matured. People are now openly discussing and debating serious issues like rape, sexual assault, consent, etc. on the social media, which were previously a social taboo. While the society is adapting to the needs of the 21st century, it is high time section 155(4) should also go through a robust change for ensuring gender justice in the society.

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Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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