DESPITE countrywide protest against rape, it appears that the incidence of sexual violence is alarmingly on the rise. On an average, according to a report of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, more than two women were raped every day during the first six months of the year. At least 416 women were raped and 24 of them killed after rape in the reporting period. On Saturday alone, police recorded four rape cases in Gazipur, Chattagram and Narayanganj. An adolescent girl was gang raped when she boarded a bus to sell chocolate among passengers near Joydebpur in Gazipur. In Chattogram, a middle-aged woman was raped and later physically assaulted when she denied marrying her rapist. These incidents are reported when people are still reeling from the shock of the brutal rape and sexual humiliation of a woman in Begumganj, Noakhali. A disturbing pattern in the recently reported cases, as observed by many women’s groups, that the perpetrators are not only engaging in sexual violence, but also deeply humiliating the victim by releasing the video tape of the rape on social media suggests that the existing legal interventions and social campaign are a failure in containing sexual violence.
Following the recent protests, the government has moved to amend the Women and Children Repression Prevention (Amendment) Bill to include death penalty as punishment for rape. The proposed amendment is now being reviewed by the parliamentary standing committee concerned after it was placed there on Sunday. Many lawyers, however, consider the government move as myopic which singularly focus on the conviction stage of any case proceedings when access to justice starts at the police station. The Rape Law Reform Coalition has asked for specific reforms of the rape law that include, among other things, redefinition of rape and a review of the Evidence Act of 1872 to prevent any scope of institutional victim blaming. More importantly, as many women’s rights activists have rightly pointed that a conducive legal environment for rape survivor alone cannot prevent rape until and unless political parties stop using sexual violence as weapon and the social tendency to patronise the perpetrator is prevented. The case of forcing a rape survivor to marry her rapist, a leader of the ruling party, at Pabna Sadar Police Station where she went to report the crime, proves that our singular focus on punitive justice will not end sexual violence in Bangladesh.
First and foremost, the political party in power must abandon its use of male violence for political gain and engage in a constructive dialogue with all concerned for effective changes in the existing rape law. The government must consider incorporating gender equality in primary and secondary education to help students to acquire a healthy understanding of sexuality and awareness of the legal consequences of sexual violence. Women rights groups must abandon their project based approach and engage in a long term campaign against the culture of violence that normalises rape.
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