Why should the evidence of the girl or the woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with the aid of spectacles fitted with lenses tinged with doubt, disbelief or suspicion, the bench remarked.
Exhorting to bring significant reforms in the criminal justice system, the Supreme Court, in State of Himachal Pradesh vs Sanjay Kumar @ Sunny, has mooted for a ‘survivor-centric approach’ towards victims of sexual violence, particularly children, keeping in view the traumatic long lasting effects on such victims.
A bench comprising Justice AK Sikri and Justice AM Sapre made this observation while setting aside the Himachal Pradesh High Court judgment, which had acquitted a man accused of raping his 9-year-old niece.
Restoring the trial court verdict, the court sentenced accused for the rigorous imprisonment for 12 years and imposed a fine of ₹50,000 on him.
‘Incestuous abuse is still regarded as a taboo’
The high court, while acquitting the accused, took note of the three-day delay in lodging of FIR after the girl informed the mother about the incident. The apex court bench observed that the accused being the uncle of the prosecutrix, it is not easy to lodge a complaint of this nature exposing prosecutrix to the risk of social stigma, which unfortunately still prevails in our society.
“A decision to lodge FIR becomes more difficult and hard when accused happens to be a family member. In fact, incestuous abuse is still regarded as a taboo to be discussed in public. This reticence hurts the victims or other family members who struggle to report. After all, in such a situation, not only the honour of the family is at stake, it may antagonize other relations as well, as in the first blush, such other members of family would not take charge of this nature very kindly,” the bench said.
‘Danger is more within than outside’
Taking note of studies which show that in more than 80% cases of such abuses, perpetrators have acquaintance with the victims and are not strangers, the court observed that the danger is more within than outside.
“Most of the time, acquaintance rapes, when the culprit is a family member, are not even reported for various reasons, not difficult to fathom. The strongest among those is the fear of attracting social stigma,” the bench observed.
The court also observed that the victims find whole process of criminal justice system extremely intimidating coupled with absence of victim protection mechanism and therefore the time is ripe to bring about significant reforms in the criminal justice system as well.
“Equally, there is also a dire need to have a survivor centric approach towards victims of sexual violence, particularly, the children, keeping in view the traumatic long lasting effects on such victims,” the court opined.
‘Insisting corroboration insults womanhood’
The court also reiterated that a rape victim is not an accomplice and her evidence can be acted upon without corroboration, as she stands on a higher pedestal than an injured witness does. If the court finds it difficult to accept her version, it may seek corroboration from some evidence which lends assurance to her version. The court said insisting corroboration, except in the rarest of rare cases, is to equate one who is a victim of the lust of another with an accomplice to a crime and, thereby, insult womanhood.
“It would be adding insult to injury to tell a woman that her claim of rape will not be believed unless it is corroborated in material particulars, as in the case of an accomplice to a crime. Why should the evidence of the girl or the woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with the aid of spectacles fitted with lenses tinged with doubt, disbelief or suspicion? The plea about lack of corroboration has no substance,” the bench remarked observing that there was enough corroborative material in this case.
Read the Judgment here.