Rape has now become so common that it does not startle us anymore. Perhaps anyone with access to the newspaper can say there is not a single day without a rape in Bangladesh.
While working for a newspaper, I used to get at least three to five reports on rape from across the country almost every day. Like my other colleagues, I no longer felt shocked while reading or writing these reports and started to consider it a regular crime happening in the country due to surge. But is rape a normal crime?
According to Ain O Salish Kendra, the number of rapes has doubled this year in comparison to the last year. In the most recent report, ASK said that over 975 women were raped between January to August this year.
Of them, 42 were killed after rape and 12 opted to commit suicide. According to data gleaned from the police, a total of 6,215 rape cases were filed across the country for the last five years.
Of them, 815 cases were filed for child rape. Meanwhile, a large number of rapes have remained unreported due to threat by rapists and their cohorts and in fear of social stigma.
Usually, we come to know about such incidents after the victim dies, or when his/her condition is critical for which we can say that the current shocking figures of rapes are not enough to reveal the true picture of the country.
Nine-months-old babies to 90 years old women—none is safe from rapists. In some cases, we have seen that a daughter is not safe with her father.
There is a huge gap between the rising incidents and verdicts which deserve attention. It takes longer to get the verdict of a case and the percentage of getting justice is low in comparison with the surge of rape.
In this backdrop, the question remains as to why there is such a low rate of justice regarding this crime.
On top of that due to the long legal battle and after being tired of roaming the courts, many victims and their family members opted to go for "out of court settlements" and the number of such cases is not a few. So, the victims and their family members lost their faith in the legal system.
We have seen the case of Comilla Victoria College student Sohagi Jahan Tonu who found dead after being raped inside Comilla Cantonment in March 2016.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) started the probe in April the same year. However, the reports of the two autopsies conducted by the forensic department of Comilla Medical College Hospital were not helpful.
Tonu's mother Anwara Begum expressed her frustration as the killers of her daughter could not be identified even after four years of the incident. She told journalists that the investigation made any progress in the meantime.
The incident triggered outrage across the country but did Tonu's family get justice? They are still crying for justice.
A few days after the incident of gang-rape at MC College in Sylhet, another gang rape in Noakhali has shaken the country. In both incidents, the accused were claimed to have an alliance with the ruling party.
Being confirmed of their political affiliation, we can assume their fate as like many other earlier cases! Like the case of Tonu, there are so many cases which are now under investigation but no progress was seen made.
What makes it so long for investigation?
It can be said that the long-standing culture of impunity is a big reason for such incidents. People are committing crimes but they rarely get punished. This is one of the main causes behind the surge in rape.
On top of that, a section of people was spreading hatred through their speeches in the name of religion but they were not being held accountable to anyone.
Besides, criminals often get political backing after committing such offences which is one of the main reasons behind this situation. In some cases, despite the severity of the crime, the perpetrators got bail and walked out in front of the traumatised victims. Isn't it obvious that any particular crime turns rampant if it goes unpunished? It turns even more unbridled while the victim is the weakest.
The simple truth is that sex without consent is rape. Failure to recognise this in law leaves women exposed to sexual violence and fuels a dangerous culture of victim-blaming and impunity reinforced by myths and stereotypes which pervade in our society.
To stop this crime, the government have to act immediately. They have to strengthen existing sexual violence legislation implementation, including implementation of the High Court Directive on Sexual Harassment and advocate for the amendment of discriminatory laws that discourage rape survivors to report and hamper women's access to justice.
On top of that, the government needs to enact the proposed Sexual Harassment Law and to amend the Penal Code by changing the discriminatory definition of rape to make it more inclusive, amend character evidence provisions, adopt the victims/witness protection law, form separate commission to prevent rape, ensure rule of law and justice for survivors of sexual violence; impart moral education.
And lastly, the government have to ensure exemplary punishment of culprits so that none can dare to commit such offence otherwise all the achievements of the government undertaken to empower women will go in vain.
Abdulla Abbas is a former student of Communication & Journalism at Chittagong University