‘VICTIM-BLAMING’ LEGALIZED BY THE EVIDENCE LAW IN BANGLADESH

VICTIM-BLAMING – A TOXIC PRACTICE

Nowadays everyone in the world knows more or less about victim-blaming. Victim-blaming is a devaluing act where the victim of a crime or an accident is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against the victim. Victim-blaming usually takes place when the victim of a criminal offense or any wrongful act is completely or partially guilty of the damage suffered. The study of victimology solicits to alleviate prejudice against the victim and the perception that the victim has some responsibility for the actions of the offender.

So, we can say that victim-blaming is a way of blaming the victim of the situation to avoid being held accountable for the wrongful act of a perpetrator. It’s a tool for any perpetrator to avoid the full accountability of their offense.

SEXUAL ASSAULT AND VICTIM-BLAMING

According to an article published in The Daily Star on March 03, 2021, “a total of 26,695 rape cases have been filed across the country in the last five years.”[1] The rate of sexual violence in Bangladesh keeps increasing day by day. So is the rate of victim-blaming.  When any woman gets raped the most common question that is asked is – ‘What was she wearing?’ Some even think that facts, like the victim being provocative or traveling alone, or having an active sexual life, might be the cause of rape. This is how victim-blaming usually starts.

What we have to understand here is the concept of ‘consent’ in sexual activity. Consent means actively agreeing to have sex and letting the other person know sex is wanted. Sexual activity without consent is considered as rape or sexual assault. No matter how morally corrupted a woman might be it is still necessary to consider her consent before engaging in any sexual activity. So ‘what she was wearing has nothing to do with rape but not considering her consent has.

EFFECTS OF VICTIM-BLAMING

The effects of victim-blaming are dreadful. Victim-blaming plays a significant role in the growth of rape culture in our country. Victim blaming crushes a victim and makes it harder to come forward and report the abuse. It discourages a victim from seeking legal help as they lose their faith in the judicial system. It also gives the perpetrator an unfair advantage. Thus victim-blaming plays a vital role in the obstruction of justice.

THE EVIDENCE ACT 1872 – A STATUTE THAT LEGALISES VICTIM BLAMING

The Evidence Act 1872 which plays an important role in deciding civil and criminal cases in the present day in Bangladesh favors rapists and supports “victim-blaming” indirectly. The provision stated in Section 155(4) states that – “when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix (victim) was generally of immoral character.”[2] This particular section is a huge loophole of this very Act. It gives the rapist an unfair advantage and humiliates the victim.

We already know consent is essential to engage in sexual activity. However, consent has nothing to do with one’s character. So, judging the victim’s character in case of a rape incident is completely irrelevant.

Again, there is no actual definition of “immoral character” given in this Act. This enables the defense party to take advantage of the term. The defense lawyer may misinterpret the term and harass the prosecution. This is how the very provision gives the defense party the upper hand and changes the direction of the case. As a result, justice is often denied.

JUDGEMENTS GIVEN UNDER THIS PROVISION

If we look at a few cases like the case of State v. Sri Pintu Pal[3] or the case of State v. Abdul Majid[4] it is visible that how victim-blaming gave the defense an unfair advantage and obstructed the process of justice.

In the case State v. Sri Pintu Pal, filed in 2010 under the “Women and Child Repression Prevention Act 2000”, the accused was acquitted as the complainant was a domestic help and considered to be of “easy virtue”.[5]

The judgment cited, “The plaintiff woman is of easy virtue so her dignity is low. As a result, this accusation is not believable; the court did not find any clear evidence to place their trust on the accusation brought by this woman of easy virtue.”[6]

In State v. Abdul Majid, a divorced woman with one child, was raped by a neighbor in her own home, the judgment cited, “The plaintiff is habituated to sex so it was not possible to obtain any evidence of rape. The victim is of ‘immoral’ character and involved in different unsocial and unethical activities.” The accused was acquitted.[7]

In these cases, we can see how victim-blaming was used as a tool to oppress the prosecution and to gain an unfair advantage.

SUGGESTION: CONCLUDING REMARKS

The provision stated in Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 is defective and should come under critical evaluation. This issue has been raised many times and the Law Commission has drawn up a new Evidence Act repealing the provision of section 155 (4), but it has not yet been accepted by Parliament. So, this means that the old regulations are still valid.

However, this particular provision should be amended immediately. The term “immoral character” must be strictly defined. It should be ensured that this provision is no longer used as a tool to oppress the victim. In cases of rape ‘consent’ should be the only concern. The character of the victim should not concern the court. It should also be ensured that no irrelevant and indecent questions are asked by the defense lawyer to harass the prosecution in a courtroom. The access to justice of a rape victim should be ensured without them facing victim-blaming.

Victim blaming is a great hinder in the path of justice. However, Section 155(4) of the Evidence Act 1872 legally justifies victim-blaming. In a country like Bangladesh where women are already oppressed this very provision is used as a tool to abuse them on a greater level. So, this particular provision has to be repealed or amended immediately.

Author(s) Name: Subah Samiha Afrid (University of Bangladesh)

References:

[1] Star Digital Report, ‘26,695 rape cases filed in last 5 years: IGP office report to HC’ (The Daily Star, 3 March 2021) <https://www.thedailystar.net/crime/news/26695-rape-cases-filed-last-5-years-igp-office-report-hc-2054337> accessed on 16 September 2021

[2] The Evidence Act 1872, s 155(4)

[3] Staff Correspondent, ‘Evidence Act too chaste for prosecuting rapists’ (The Daily Star, 6 June 2016) <https://www.thedailystar.net/city/evidence-act-too-chaste-prosecute-rapists-1235023> accessed on 15 September 2021

[4] Id

[5] Id

[6] Id

[7] Id

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