Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has said “due regard'' must be given to the “personal autonomy'' of rape victims to decide on whether they should marry the perpetrator or choose to give birth to a child conceived through forced crime.

Speaking at a national consultation on “Access to Justice, Relief and Rehabilitation of Rape Victims'' here on Sunday, Justice Balakrishnan said judges, lawyers and social activists should also ensure that they do not take an overtly paternalistic approach when they have to make decisions for the welfare of rape victims.

“It is not possible for policy makers and judges to prescribe a ‘one-size-fits-all approach' and we must make honest efforts to build the institutional capacity needed for the proper rehabilitation of rape victims.''

Calling for a robust discussion on the proposed comprehensive “Scheme for Relief and Rehabilitation of Victims of Rape'' mooted by the Women and Child Development Ministry, the Chief Justice also said that the Centre's proposed bill which contemplates the creation of fast-track courts to try sex-related offences, must also keep in mind the interests of the victim, and not merely punish the offenders.

“Adequate attention should also be drawn to suggestions for provision of shelter, counselling services, medical and legal aid. It must be kept in mind that an act of rape or molestation can have long-lasting consequences such as mental trauma, physical disability and frustration of prospects for marriage and employment.”

He also referred to the ‘secondary victimisation,' which a rape victim often has to suffer during the trial of the accused due to inconvenient, probing and often indecent questions by defence counsel.

“There is a very real phenomenon described as ‘secondary victimisation' wherein the victim of a crime faces additional harassment and humiliation in the course of investigation and trial. Especially when the perpetrators are in a position of power over the victims, there is a strong distrust of the credibility of the investigation itself,'' Justice Balakrishnan pointed out.

“Some recent cases highlighted in the press have shown how the investigative machinery can often be manipulated to protect influential persons, howsoever reprehensible their crimes may be,” he said. “The investigators, prosecutors and defence counsels must exhibit an appropriate degree of sensitivity to the victims,'' he said.

The CJI also highlighted recent changes in law, which provide that the past sexual history of victims must be ignored.

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