By immediately changing clothes, having bath and douching

Many women who survived sexual assault unwittingly wiped off evidence from their bodies, shows a recent report published by the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT).

CEHAT carries out rape crisis intervention in three hospitals of the Mumbai municipal corporation: Rajawadi at Ghatkopar, Bhabha at Bandra and Oshiwara at Santacruz. Of the 94 survivors who reported to these hospitals between 2008 and 2012, 47 per cent changed their clothes immediately after the assault, 38 per cent had a bath and 28 per cent douched. Thus the chances of finding any evidence on the body were drastically reduced even though these survivors reached the hospital within 24 hours of assault, says the report.

The 22-year-old photojournalist, who was gang-raped on August 22 at the Shakti Mills Compound here, however, had the presence of mind to go straight to Jaslok Hospital.

In 2000, CEHAT collaborated with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to establish an initiative of response to domestic violence at public hospitals in Mumbai. Known as ‘Dilaasa’, it was the first such attempt in India to make the health sector sensitive and accountable to the issue of Violence Against Women.

“The survivor should go to the doctor before doing anything else so that there is immediate intervention. This helps in gathering evidence as well as instant physical and psychological treatment,” says Dilaasa project director Seema Malik.

The report shows that nearly half the survivors (41 of 94) reported directly to hospital before reaching a police station. Four of these survivors spoke about the assault only after they learned they were pregnant. Three out of every four women knew the perpetrator. Most of the offenders were close relatives such as uncles, grandfathers and fathers and neighbours.

Fifty-one survivors reporting to the hospital were children in the age group 0-12. At least one in every three child survivors reported being lured into the act with promise of a gift, a toy or chocolate.

The report shows that absence of physical and genital injuries does not mean that the assault has not occurred. Fifty-seven of the 94 survivors sustained no genital injury as there was no resistance to the assault due to a “fear of being killed, feeling completely numbed or shocked when assaulted or being rendered unconscious during the assault.”

Physical injury cannot always be established because of the nature of assault such as fondling the survivor, says the report.

The findings underscore the need for conducting medical examination in a dignified manner. Training and consistent dialogue with health care providers would enable them to become sensitive in their approach to survivors, says Dr. Malik.

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