Can death penalty prevent rape in Bangladesh?

Published: 00:00, Dec 01,2020


‘Number of rape will not automatically decline with the arrest and conviction of rapists until and unless we focus on the underlying reasons that sustain a rape culture.’

THE recent incidents of rape sparked massive protests across the country. The protests erupted when a woman was stripped and assaulted by a group of men in a remote village in Noakhali. Such nationwide protest was quite unprecedented that prompted the government to make an amendment to the existing related law incorporating a provision for death penalty as a possible punishment for rape. A section of the society has commended the government move, but the question remains, whether death penalty can really prevent the rising number of sexual violence.

There is a popular expression, ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is more important to prevent and put an end to rape culture, and death penalty is not a real solution to rape. Rather, it might encourage the rapists to murder their victims. Moreover, there is no evidence that death penalty helps to reduce any crime. Passing a law in parliament is easy, but there is no initiative for the implementation of laws, especially for women. Number of rape will not automatically decline with the arrest and conviction of rapists until and unless we focus on the underlying reasons that sustain a rape culture.

No man is born a rapist, rather social and family values influence there upbringing in ways that allow them to think such violence is ‘acceptable’. Only a dead soul can rape a woman or child. For long-term prevention, it is important to look at the root cause of sexual violence. Even today male students of various universities think that dress is responsible for rape and very few are well aware about the notion of consent, marital rape etc. The overall attitude towards women is violent. For example, when a female HSC candidate demanded to reconsider the decision of cancelling the HSC exam, many male HSC candidates publicly threatened her commenting that they would rape her. Rape has now become a form of entertainment for men. These are the results of a lack of sexual and moral education, patriarchy, power imbalances and toxic masculinity, which allow a man to assault and objectify women. We must break this culture and raise awareness against patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Age appropriate sexual education should be incorporated in school textbooks. Parents should be encouraged not to treat sex as a taboo. They, rather, should raise and socialise their male children in a gender-sensitive way. In addition, redefining the concept of rape and consent is necessary. The concept of marital rape needs to be incorporated in law. Recently, a 14 year old child bride at Basail, Tangail died as a victim of marital rape. The media has been reporting about such cases recently. Our society should understand that a marriage certificate, relation or a victim’s dress do not give the license to rape a woman.

The social tendency to normalise sexual violence against children and women should be challenged. There are many cases where ethnic women, transgender people, women of minority group and madrassah students are the victims but their cases are neglected due to their social, class and gender identity. Many madrassah students are being sexually assaulted and raped by their teachers. It appears that such cases are on the rise. Irrespective of the identity of the victim, the perpetrators should be punished.

Victimisation and stigmatisation of survivor of sexual violence must also be eliminated. Only a rapist is responsible for the crime. A safe space must be created so that the victim can get the confidence to seek justice. Instead of restricting women’s mobility, their safety must be ensured at home and in public.

It is also crucial to establish a justice system in which the survivors will not be ignored, rather will have access to proper legal and health support. In Bangladesh, most of the rape victims do not get the courage to take actions against the rapists because of the existing legal system and social structure that stigmatise them. Even when the victims gather the courage to take action, their cases are rarely investigated. The case of sexual assault of woman in Begumganj, Noakhali came to light after two months of the incident. The absence of, or delay in, justice dispensation gives rapists the confidence that they will not be punished. Accountability of the law enforcement agencies and other institutions should also be strengthened so that the survivors of rape and other sexual violence get proper justice.

Atia Sanjida Sushoma

University of Dhaka

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