Poor medical evidence reduces rape conviction rate

Poor medical evidence reduces rape conviction rate

By ADITYA SAKORKAR | NEW DELHI | 12 January, 2013
Medical practitioners often focus on aspects that are not relevant to the investigation.

The absence of uniform guidelines in gathering medical evidence for rape cases is one of the main reasons why conviction rate is so low. Only 26.4% of the 24,206 cases of rape that were registered in 2011 had convictions, according to National Crime Records Bureau.

Medical practitioners often focus on aspects that are not relevant to the investigation. Doctors document the sexual history of the victim, which may not always be relevant to the case. The Himachal Pradesh High Court ruled in 2008 that sexual history of the survivor was not at all relevant to the rape case. "Doctors use the archaic 'two-finger test' to determine how 'habituated' the survivor is to sexual intercourse. This information, in turn, may be used to discredit the character of the survivor in court," said Padma Deosthali, coordinator of the Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes. A Sessions Court in New Delhi ruled in 2010 that the two-finger test violated the privacy of the victim and needed to be stopped. "Doctors assess the status of a hymen in the survivor's vagina," said Deosthali. But the status of a hymen is always not conclusive of whether forceful sexual intercourse has taken place or not, she added. There is also a lack of co-ordination between the hospital where the medical examination is carried out and the forensic laboratory where the evidence is sent. As a result, hospitals often do not get a copy of the chemical analysis report, although the doctor who conducted the medical examination is supposed to give his /her opinion based on the report.

"Forensic laboratories sometimes take even six to nine months," said Suman Nalwa, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police in Special Police Unit for Woman and Children in Delhi. "Sometimes the serums used in the examination are too expensive for the labs to procure thereby slowing the down process," she added. Flavia Agnes, a women's rights lawyer said, "At times, the charge sheet is filed and the trial begins even without the medical examination report." Without this, it is not possible to get a conviction. Delay in collecting evidence also often weakens the case. "If a rape survivor takes a bath, urinates or defecates after the incident, the chance of getting requisite evidence goes down considerably," said Deosthali.

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