WE will not mind if Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski is tried per the same law that applies to anyone who commits such a crime, because letting this kind of crime go unpunished is not only a miscarriage of justice but also a slap to humanity. Polanski, 76, who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in California in 1977, was arrested on September 26, 2009 on a U.S. warrant by authorities in Switzerland.
Rape or sexual torture is not just a heinous criminal act but a morally despicable one too. Sexual abuse is a serious world problem and a crime against the community, not only against the victim herself. Rapes happen across the social strata in Bangladesh. They are never reported unless the news becomes public. In recent times, almost every newspaper in Bangladesh covered a series of rapes across the country.
A teenage girl was kidnapped by a gang of young men at Uttar Goalia village under Thakurgaon district, on September 26, 2009. A schoolgirl of class 3 was raped at Ramanandapur village in Pabna Sadar upazila on Friday, October 2, while rapists didn’t spare a ten-year old schoolgirl’s life after fulfilling their heinous act at Nayapara village in Dhubaura upazila, Mymenshingh on Thursday, October 1. A leader of the student wing of the present ruling government was one step ahead as his raping video hit the market. Ahsan Kabir Mamun, a leader of Pirojpur district unit Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) lured a class 10 student to a love trap, raped her, recorded it in mobile, and then marketed it.
The above reports, in addition, include a gang rape conducted by a group of BCL activists. They kidnapped a school girl of class 7 of Pakhimara in Kalapara upazila, Patuakhali, on September 25, and raped her until at around 2:00 am. This report, however, ended with more rotten news. The group was able to get rid of this allegation with a fine of Tk.10,000 each and managed to ensure their escape by local Awami League leaders. They even forced the victim’s family to rebut the rape report in a press conference organised by them. The victim’s family was also forced to file a defamation case against the local reporters who focused on the rape news.
The victim or victim’s family go into hiding every time that police or law enforcement agencies remain inactive against the rapists, amidst reprisal from the perpetrators, when instead, the rapists should be punished and not let off. But very often, we find that the legal system in Bangladesh apparently is lenient with rapist, paedophiles, and exhibitionists — the sex offenders who put fear into the public and pose a threat to residents in their neighbourhoods and communities.
It is only the rape victim who has no chance of justice. In a cruel way, this often forces the rape victim to accept rape as an unfortunate occasional occurrence within all families, and she herself may acquiesce in hushing up another rape tomorrow.
The law enforcement agencies, even when they get to know of a rape, or even when a rape victim approaches them, almost always discourage the family from filing a complaint. Often they are threatened, if the alleged rapist is someone in a powerful position or a political activist. At other times, the police remind the victim’s family of the social repercussions and attention (and permanent social humiliation, no marriages for anyone else in the family etc. etc.) and the victim returns home to wash away all evidence of the crime.
Rape is a devastating crime. Some women are badly injured. Some become pregnant. Some contract HIV. But the emotional trauma can be worse than any physical injury. Women who are raped have nightmares, panic attacks, waves of self-doubt, and/or an overwhelming sense of distrust. The lives of women who are raped are forever changed. Some say they will never be the same, and that it’s like dying.
683,000 forcible rapes occur every year in the world, which equals 56,916 per month, 1,871 per day, 78 per hour, and 1.3 per minute. According to the Dhaka-based human rights monitoring group Odhikar, a total of 44 women and girls were raped between August 1 and 31 in the country. Among them, 16 were women and 17 were children, aged below sixteen. Out of 16 women, 3 were reportedly killed after rape, 5 were victims of gang-rape, while out of the 17 girls, 2 were reportedly killed after rape, and 5 were victims of gang-rape. In May, 33 women and girls fell victim to rape. From January to March 2009, 73 women and children were the victims of rape or attempted rape.
In 1993, the United Nations passed a resolution placing rape, for the first time, within the framework of war crimes. Furthermore, the U.N. General Assembly established that rape, under certain circumstances, could also constitute genocide. The International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague reinforced this with a ruling in 2001, stating that rape of civilians is a crime against humanity. Rape is mentioned only once in Bangladesh’s International Crimes (Tribunals) Act of 1973, and is identified only as a crime against humanity. It has been alleged that an estimated 200,000 women were raped during the Bangladesh Liberation War by the Pakistani army.
The law in Bangladesh prohibits rape and physical abuse. The Women and Children Repression Prevention Act of 2000 ensures stringent punishment, up to death, for rape-related crimes. Women leaders, human rights activists, lawyers and civil society members have no problem with the law. But given the cultural pressures, the sense of shame, the fear and the slow, bullock-cart pace of justice in the country, and direct influence by political leaders, many rape incidents go unreported for various reasons. A rape victim becomes unwarranted in society if the incident is made public. There are some people who even blame the victim, not the rapist, for the offence. Many victims commit suicide out of shame after being raped.
Sexual violence is impacting the next generation. Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of democracy, development, and peace in any country. Despite having women politicians and women in leadership positions in the country, violence against women, unfortunately, continues to be part of daily life.
If the government is really serious about curbing this kind of violence against women and girls, the punishment for such crimes must be harsh, leaving any kind of consideration aside. If a rapist gets away scot-free, or gets away with minor punishment, then that means rape is a viable sexual strategy for a large number of men. Rape is inevitable if we don’t punish it.
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York.