Sometimes it does more harm than good
In recent times, Bangladesh’s headlines have been blown away by cases of rape and harrowing sexual assaults. The common demand that has come out is “Hang the rapists.” In response to the anti-rape movement, the Bangladesh Cabinet on October 12 approved a draft law introducing the death penalty as the maximum punishment for rape, alongside the rigorous life imprisonment which is currently in effect.
According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), 975 women were raped, including 208 subjected to gang rape, from January to September this year. The number could be higher as many cases go unreported.
However, imposing draconian punishments on the perpetrators cannot be a conclusive remedy to deter rape. Studies show that there is no credible evidence that sentencing criminals to death is able to reduce crimes more effectively, including rape. Nor has the crime rate increased in countries where the death penalty is outlawed.
In Bangladesh, combatting rape and sexual offenses has always been challenging. As our laws regarding rape are a continuation of the colonial legacy, the conviction rate is too low.
To uproot rape culture permanently, Bangladesh needs to solely focus on the wellbeing of the rape victim as well as provide a safer and secure country for women, rather than introducing tougher penalties.
Altering the definition of rape
According to Section 375 of the Penal Code (1860), rape is sexual intercourse, with or without the consent of a woman, determined by situational factors.
It does not cover most of the sexual assault cases and, as a result, perpetrators are easily acquitted of charges. Hence, redefining rape along with elucidating all forms of non-consensual penetration should be an issue of utmost priority for the government.
The government takes the initial responsibility of a rape victim by providing necessary medical costs as well as the lawsuit expenses after presenting the charge sheet.
Unfortunately, survivors who are financially unstable do not want to continue the legal proceedings, and it often ends with the withdrawal of the case. In this regard, providing particular compensation to the victims would be an effective way to lift their morale.
Reducing the stigma among survivors
The aftermath of a sexual assault can be horrifying for the survivors. The short or long-term trauma, the social stigma, the fear of reprisal are the main obstacles in terms of seeking justice. The government has to address these barriers. The victims, under no circumstances, should feel ignored or be maligned.
Enacting witness protection laws
Enacting a victim and witness protection law would work as an effective deterrent. Rapists can manipulate the witnesses the same way they force themselves on the victims.
So, protecting the witnesses should be considered of great importance. Rape Law Reform Coalition, comprising of 17 rights organizations, has also mentioned the necessity of adopting a witness protection law in their 10-point demand.
Moreover, they have opposed the decision of the government regarding the death penalty being the highest form of punishment.
Finalizing the death sentence as the highest punishment has been criticized by rights organizations, researchers, activists, and legal practitioners. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced her concern that capital punishment will not be a persistent solution to the prevailing situation of rape.
To prevent rape, the importance should be the welfare of the rape survivors, not the severity of the punishment.
The government has to make sure that the victims come forward and raise their voice against the perpetrators. They should not feel threatened or sabotaged while doing so. Often, it is seen that the law enforcers are being harsh to the victims instead of dealing with them gently and delicately.
The training process of the officers should also be considered in this regard. Research shows that stricter penalties have a reverse interrelation with conviction in criminal cases.
Legislating the death penalty will have an adverse effect, as the assaulter will have every reason to murder the victim after committing rape.
Therefore, the death penalty may be the easiest and the most convenient demand to raise, but truth be told, it will be of no use unless the aforesaid issues and measures are taken into consideration.
Fariha Anjum is a student of law.