Will the death penalty be able to stop rape?
Rape is the most perverted form of sexual abuse and, from a feminist perspective, it is the worst form of patriarchal oppression. Unfortunately, rape and sexual abuse of women is prevalent in every society, even in the most developed nations, to varying degrees and forms.
The heinous incidences of rape in Bangladesh -- especially of children -- we have witnessed in the last couple of months raised a public demand of the death penalty for rapists believing that this would deter the number of rape cases. But how effective will this be?
No study has ever pointed out that death penalty can act as a deterrent to any crime. First of all, seeking the death penalty requires a very tight and complicated set of guidelines for implementation which in turn poses a burden on the prosecution to follow, takes longer time to finish the trial, resulting in delay and sometimes inaccuracies in judgment.
Imposing the death penalty for rape cases may actually deter the system from handing out convictions.
When the punishment is severe, it means that the accused may be released due to lack of sufficient evidence or witness, or because there is no option for less punishment. The death penalty may also lead to more post-rape murders of victims since leaving a victim alive after the rape would mean greater risk of being caught and sentenced to death.
Also, if the penalty for rape is death, rape cases might go under-reported.
The death penalty for rape may lead to a short-term reduction of the number of rapes but it may prove ineffective in the long run. Preventing rape and sexual abuse requires a multi-task approach which requires an effective judiciary, efficient law enforcement agencies, implementation of laws, sensitization of the offenders, and progressive social attitudes.
Research shows that in rural areas and in urban areas of Bangladesh, nearly 82% and 79% of men, respectively, cited entitlement as their reason for rape. Approximately 61.2% of the urban men who raped did not feel guilty, while 95.1% of the rural men did not experience any legal consequences, and less than 2% of women report rape or sexual abuse. Reportedly, at least 496 children were raped in the last six months.
First of all, we have to ensure a social system where the victim and her family can fearlessly report and seek help from the legal system. Under-reporting of rape is a common phenomenon in our country, which means that even strict laws do not encourage victims and their family to report the crime.
The social stigma attached to rape and its linkage with women’s chastity and honour of the family promotes silence of the victim.
It is important to make sure that, during a rape hearing, only the relevant people and officers stay in the court room.
The charge sheet contains classified information about the rape incident, which oftentimes make the victim uncomfortable and vulnerable enough not to continue the legal proceeding.
Section 155 of the Evidence Act, 1872 contains that, in rape cases, the victim might be interrogated about her character and lifestyle. This provision needs to be amended to encourage the victims to come forward for justice.
In addition to focusing on the judicial system, we have to focus on reforming gender identities and gender-based discrimination which are socially constructed in our public and private lives.
Educating our children about sexual abuse in a manner that will make them conscious about the dangers without causing any psychological burden is very important. Provisions should be made in our textbooks about appropriate sexual behaviour, including consensual sex and basic sex education.
Individuals convicted of rape or sexual abuse need to be socially stigmatized, but monitoring and sensitization of the accused/offender is important to ensure that they do not further commit such crimes in the future.
Recently, the High Court observed that moral degradation has reached such a point that rapes are happening repeatedly, but what can be done to improve morality remains a question to ponder over.
Farzana Mahmood is Barrister-at-Law and Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and Executive Director of Bangladesh Manobadhikar O Poribesh Andolon Foundation.