Department of Health Research sets norms on treatment of sexual assault victims
The guidelines on treatment of sexual assault victims issued by the Department of Health Research advises healthcare facilities not to refuse treatment to a victim of sexual assault and doctors not to use the term ‘rape’ in their medical reports as it is a legal definition and does not constitute medical diagnosis.
The guidelines say that the opinion of doctors must be evidence-based.
The guidelines also warn medical professionals against performing the “finger test” and mentioning that the victim “is habituated to sexual intercourse,” the usual practice examining physicians follow.
“This is unlawful interference with her privacy and unlawful attacks on her honour and reputation and is violation of her human rights and has no medical/scientific significance. In a prosecution of sexual assault, where the question of consent is in issue, evidence of character of the victim or of her previous sexual experience with any person is not relevant on the issue of such consent or quality of consent,” it says.
In the past, rape survivor examination was only done after receiving police requisition. Now this is not mandatory for a rape survivor seeking medical examination and care. The guidelines ask doctors should examine such cases without an FIR if the survivor reports to the hospital first.
The guidelines, which also carry a manual, are prepared to guide doctors step-by-step while treating, examining, and collecting important evidence, documenting and forming opinion.
“Absence of injuries over body and/or genitals of the victim of sexual assault does not rule out commission of said offence. Few reasons for the absence of injuries are: victim may have been threatened with bodily harm, physically restrained or afraid to/unable to resist for other reasons or intoxication,” it explains.
Making obtaining “informed consent” of the victim mandatory before starting treatment and informing the police — parents and guardians in case the patient is below 12 years or not in a position to giver her consent — the guidelines say that doctors are required to give the patient a structured explanation of what the examination comprises and how the various procedures may be carried out. All this should be explained in the manner and language which the patient can understand.
“Consent is most important as no one including court or police can force alleged victim of sexual assault to undergo examination. Informed consent gives full information regarding concerned procedure to the patient. It also gives an idea regarding problems arising out of denial and offers various options to the patient. It also serves as a good legal safeguard for the doctor conducting such procedure.”