Right steps

Right steps

The guidelines on medical examination and treatment of rape victims, issued by the union health ministry,  will help to take the trauma out of such tests and make the handling of such cases more humane and efficient.

The guidelines were prepared in consultation with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and many experts. An eminent forensic expert, Dr Indrajit Wadhwa of Nagpur, had relentlessly pursued the poor quality and objectionable methods of medical examination of victims of sexual assault through reports and petitions in courts and had persuaded the Maharashtra government to adopt new rules to handle such cases with sensitivity. He has helped in the drafting of the guidelines at the national level also. A new manual has also been framed to address the psycho-social impact of sexual violence through provisions for counselling. needs.

An important highlight of the guidelines is the banning of the primitive and horrendous ‘two-finger test’ which is even considered a second sexual assault on the victim and cause physical and psychological pain and humiliation. It is also unscientific and has been used often wrongly to determine the past sexual history of the victim, which is irrelevant. The new rules also lay down that hospitals should have designated  rooms for tests in medico-legal cases of sexual assault and forensic examinations should be held in privacy and with the informed consent of the victim. The examination should be conducted even without an FIR if the victim goes to hospital before reporting to the police. Follow-up medical and psychological care has also been prescribed.

There are a number of other provisions which make the tests effective and ensure the dignity of the victim.  They are important because a large number of sexual assault cases have failed in courts because of bad and inadequate forensic procedures and wrong conclusions based on them.

The guidelines and the protocols are in line with the amended law relating to sexual crimes against  women which was adopted after the 2012 case of rape and murder of a woman in Delhi. The rules on forensic and medical procedures had to be updated to make the law more effective in dealing with sexual assault cases.  Adequate infrastructure and facilities have to be created in hospitals and  health centres to implement the guidelines. The new rules should become accepted practices and change the habits and attitudes of those who deal with the victims and handle the cases at the crucial initial stage.