NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Rape victims in India who undergo forensic examinations are being subjected to a “degrading” finger test which is archaic and unscientific, according to a report by Human Rights Watch on Monday.
The test -- which involves a doctor inserting fingers into a rape victim’s vagina to determine if she is sexually active -- is seen as outdated medical jurisprudence in many countries where it has been banned, said the New York-based group.
Yet in patriarchal India, the test continues and is not only traumatising, said activists, but the results are used by defence lawyers to reinforce false stereotypes of rape victims being promiscuous which can be detrimental to a victim’s case.
“This test is yet another assault on a rape survivor, placing her at risk of further humiliation,” said Aruna Kashyap, HRW’s women’s rights researcher.
“The Indian government should heed demands of Indian activists to abolish this degrading and useless practice.”
Officials from the health ministry were not immediately available to comment and police in Delhi said they were not in a position to react to the report because they had not seen it.
The number of registered rape cases in India has increased almost ten-fold to 21,467 in 2008 from 2,487 in 1971, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
But despite growing awareness, the actual number of rapes in the country is much higher, with most women fearing to report the crime due to many factors, including the “shame” it will bring on their family in often traditional and conservative communities.
The conviction rate also remains low at about 27 percent in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available.
The report -- based on interviews with forensic experts, rape victims, lawyers and activists in New Delhi and Mumbai -- found that doctors in both cities are expected by authorities to conduct finger tests during examination.
The doctors are required to provide details about the hymen, including whether it is intact or torn, the size of the vagina and the number of fingers that can be admitted.
Activists say this information is unnecessary as it further humiliates a rape victim and provides no useful data.
Rather, the test -- which is banned in countries like Britain, the United States and Canada -- is yet another hurdle rape victims in India face if they want to get justice.
Many are often afraid to speak out due to being ostracised by their communities, while others lack trust in police.
Sometimes victims have been further molested by policemen or complaint rejected because the accused is influential.
“The government must introduce standard guidelines on how forensic examinations should be conducted based on respecting the rape survivor’s rights,” said HRW’s Kashyap.
(Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee)
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