The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled suggests steps to the Justice Verma Committee to prevent sexual abuse of women with disabilities

The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has called for establishment of a monitoring and regulatory authority to prevent sexual abuse of women with disabilities.

The authority has to be established at the district level consisting of activists and specialists from the district who will have visiting rights and access to the institutions for disabled women for regular check ups, the NPRD has said in its representation to the Justice Verma Committee that is reviewing the existing rape laws in the country.

Policy and legal measures to prevent and reduce violence against women with disabilities and shield them against such abuses by themselves are not enough. Necessary legal aid to bring the perpetrators of such crime to justice has to be provided.

A large number of women with disabilities are abused within institutions like hospitals and shelter homes. Apart from sexual abuse, at times in some institutions these women are not clothed properly and are also subjected to verbal abuse.

The NPRD has pointed out that girls and women with disabilities are more vulnerable to exploitation. They are considered as soft targets with the perpetrators assuming that they can get away easily. In many cases, such women are unable to comprehend or communicate about such acts of violence or assault they face. Some reports suggest that they are up to three times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse as compared to other women.

In many cases, they are not taken seriously either by the police or the judicial system. Their difficulty in expressing themselves compounds matters even further. Victims of such crimes have to be provided with adequate and appropriate counselling facilities. In the case of a victim getting pregnant consequent to sexual abuse, appropriate counselling and options should be offered to the victims, the representation has said.

Rehabilitation of such victims is also paramount. Rehabilitation measures should equip the victims with knowledge and skills to be able to engage in productive livelihood.

It would, therefore, be pertinent that when such cases are registered, crimes against women with disabilities be also recorded as a sub-category like in the case of crimes against women from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

It has been suggested that concerned ministries and departments be directed to issue advisories to police stations, courts, legal services authorities, government hospitals and health centres to provide all the required support including access to interpreters and social workers to the women with disabilities who approach them.

Also there needs to be accountability in the matter of making services of an interpreter/counsellor available to victims. Training/sensitisation of police officers, judiciary and medical professionals on issues concerning persons with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities and the violence they face should be made mandatory.

The NPRD has demanded that there must be Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in place for the police to follow while investigating cases of sexual assault. These SOPs must refer to the specific needs of women with disabilities, at each stage of the investigation and the role of the police during trial.

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