Several legal and rights experts said there are no institutional facilities in Bangladesh that can provide long-term counselling or therapy to rape survivors to help them overcome their trauma and get back to normal lives.
The horrific ordeal that the five-year-old rape victim went through in Dinajpur has rendered the child incapable of communicating with any male in the hospital – even her own father.
For the deeply traumatised girl – who was not only raped repeatedly, but was also cut, burnt and beaten – every man is now a monster.
Dr Bilkis Begum, coordinator of One-Stop Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) where the child is currently undergoing treatment, said they were currently focusing on treating the infection in her genitalia, but they were also giving her primary counselling to help her come out of the trauma.
But the victim’s father is more worried about how his daughter is going to cope with the aftermath back home.
“My daughter’s life will be miserable because of this. Our neighbours will help, but they cannot help forever,” he told the Dhaka Tribune, crying.
“There are victims support centres in the medical colleges, but the counsels there are not trained specifically to help rape survivors, and they provide short-term counselling,” said Dr Asoke Kumar Saha, associate professor and chairman of the department of psychology at Jagannath University.
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“There is no rehabilitation mechanism in the country to provide long-term counselling, particularly in district and upazila levels. Periodic counselling is a must-do for the victims to help them recover from the mental trauma,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
He further said although NGOs are running advocacy campaigns at root level for the victims, they do not have enough capacity to provide periodic counselling as well.
“The government and the NGOs must come together to build a system that will provide long-term therapy to rape victims,” he added.
Advocate Salma Ali, executive director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association, said the existing legal system was not victim-friendly.
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“Rape survivors are victimised over and over again – when they have to go through the two-finger test at hospital, when they are questioned during trial and forced to relive the horror of their rape. The entire process of getting justice makes things even more difficult for them,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
“For children, it is more complicated, and at present there is no system that is specifically designed to help child rape victims. Some NGOs provide support to a handful of victims, most of whom are in Dhaka. The majority of the victims remain out of reach,” she added.
“Furthermore, fear of stigma and shame prevents many victims to seek help. In other times, victims are pressured by their families to keep silent in order to save their family’s ‘honour’,” Salma said.
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Asked about the government’s role in this regard, she said NGOs had been asking the government for a joint initiative to provide help to the victims for a long time.
“We must provide the special counselling environment for rape survivors which they have been long denied in this country,” she added.