As the recent spate of rape and sexual harassment of women rocked the country, experts called for ensuring exemplary punishment of the culprits and their abettors through prompt trials since 97 percent perpetrators now get off the hook in many ways.
They said sexual harassment has turned out to be the most dangerous menace in the country as perverted men from 20-year-old youths to 80-year-old ones are indulging in such crimes due to a culture of impunity, moral degradation and political backing, leniency of law enforcers, prolonged trial process and improper police investigation.
Prof Ziaur Rahman of Dhaka University's Criminology department, former Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra Sheepa Hafiza and ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir said the recent incidents like gang-rape in Sylhet and sexual harassment in Noakhali are a wakeup call for the government which needs to act fast to address the problem.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a rights body, 975 women were raped, including 208 subjected to gang-rape, from January to September 30 this year.
Of them, 45 were killed after rape and 12 others killed themselves.
Besides, it said, 161 women were subjected to sexual harassment and 12 of them took their own lives during the period.
ASK also said three women and nine men were killed for protesting the incidents of sexual harassment.
Besides, 627 children were raped and 20 boys were molested while 21 women fell victims to acid attacks.
Sheepa Hafiza said rape, sexual harassment and violence against women are gradually increasing mainly for the culture of impunity and the state's apathy to control it.
She said the number of such acts has increased as the offenders have got an impression that they will go unpunished.
"I think the state is not considering the rape and sexual harassment as a serious crime. Politicians are not still saying they're ashamed of such brutality and not assuring the victims of justice. The rapists are not properly punished by the 150-yer-old law," Sheepa observed.
To address such social menace, she said, the law must be amended and make it a time-befitting one and enforce it properly.
Sheepa said police should change their attitude towards the victims of any rape and sexual harassment, and a women-friendly atmosphere needs to be ensured at police stations.
"Whenever a victim of rape and sexual harassment goes to the police, she is harassed again through various indecent gestures and unwarranted questions. So, many victims don't get encouraged to go to the police and to seek legal action," she pointed out.
The human rights activist said political parties always try to avoid their responsibility by expelling rapists from their parties and branding them as infiltrators. "We're now seeing incidents mostly committed by ruling party men. But ruling party leaders are not much vocal against it and not taking steps to prevent their followers from committing such inhuman acts. Zero tolerance must be shown against rape and sexual harassment."
Emphasis on exemplary punishment
Farah Kabir said male-dominated society, family, the judiciary and the politicians are not sincere in stopping heinous and inhuman acts like rape and violence against women.
"Is there any guarantee that the rapists will be punished? Is there any guarantee that the state, society, family and politicians will stop pampering rapists? How will we check rape if the rapists are not given exemplary punishment and if they're given shelter by politicians, police and their families? she said.
Farah criticised the Home Minister for his recent comment that 'rape incidents happen everywhere in the world', saying he made such a remark to avoid his responsibility and pamper the offenders.
"Playing a responsible role by all is necessary in addressing this serious menace. Where is our administration, the rule of law, morality, social, family and religious education? The assaulters have become so desperate that they themselves are posting videos of their heinous acts. How do they dare do it? We must think of it and act fast to ensure the safety and dignity of women."
Weak criminal justice system
Ziaur Rahman said failure to contain sexual urge, rise in drug abuse and pornography, patriarchal attitude towards women, and very weak criminal justice system are the main reasons for which the violence against women is growing in the country.
"Our existing legal system is so week that only 3 percent criminals indulging in rape and other sexual violence are getting punished while 97 percent get off the hook in many ways," he observed.
In Bangladesh, he said, law enforcers have a history of improper dealing of cases and clearing offenders through underhand dealings. More worrying is that rape cases filed with police stations across the country are much too low, Ziaur Rahman added.