At the heart of the problem is that not enough rapists are caught and punished in the first place
Our rape laws need reform -- there is no doubt about that. The Law Ministry’s latest proposal, however, is unlikely to solve the problem we are currently facing as a nation -- which is an epidemic of sexual violence. The government’s focus on the death penalty, then, is misguided -- rape is a much broader and complex problem requiring carefully thought out legal solutions, not just more blood.
At the heart of the problem is that not enough rapists are caught and punished in the first place. The severity of the punishment is not the issue here, but a pervasive culture that refuses to believe victims, that refuses to bring rapists to book, and that refuses to recognize rape as a crime in its many forms.
In Bangladesh, crimes of rape and sexual violence are grossly underreported year after year. The shame and stigma attached, combined with the fear of repercussion, deters many women from pursuing their cases. Making rape a capital offense, in a situation where so few culprits are ever brought to trial, let alone convicted, is unlikely to be effective. Not to mention the fact that all our legal codes are backward and anti-victim -- it is only recently that the abhorrent two-finger test was abolished, but even now, we lack a clear and safe mechanism for victims to come forward with their cases.
Rather than helping more women come forward, the introduction of the death penalty could put greater pressure on women to withhold rape cases. Furthermore, the authorities may become even less inclined to accept rape cases, given the stakes involved.
This latest proposal, then, is a poorly thought-out attempt to appease the protesters and not a logical or effective solution. Indeed, many studies over the decades have shown that a death penalty is an ineffective deterrent for violent crime. Sadly, we have paid no heed to those scientific insights, and seem to be taking a step backwards.
Addressing the problem of rape should not be a question of optics at this point. The Law Ministry wants to look like something is being done in the face of widespread protests and public discontent.
But some solutions are no solution at all. In fact, they can make things much worse.