Poor gathering of forensic evidence lets offenders walk free in India

by jeeg 24. December 2012 20:16

She was just 20 when she accompanied her employer to Mamallapuram, where he allegedly drugged and raped her. It's been two years since the incident, but Nisha (name changed) hasn't got justice, as forensic reports did not back up her claim and the man walked free.

Public prosecutors say that the forensic evidence often fails them in court as examining doctors and police do not record medical and material evidence properly. One of the reasons why Nisha's case did not withstand court scrutiny was because forensics failed her. The complaint was lodged a week later, there weren't many injury marks left on her body. Worse, the doctor who examined her said since her vagina allowed two fingers it was unlikely that it was her first experience of sexual intercourse. Poor investigation and bad appreciation of evidence gathered resulted in the acquittal of her rapist-employer.

Survivors often fail to get justice because the examining doctor was unaware of the procedure or did not record the injuries properly. Women's rights activists say this is one of the main reasons why just 26% of the rape cases end in conviction though charge sheets are filed in 93% of the cases in India.

The situation in TN is not very different as the state has just 23 forensic doctors. A number of government medical colleges and most district headquarters hospitals do not have forensic experts. A woman who complains of rape is often taken to a gynaecologist for a medical test. In the absence of proper training to deal with rape, most government doctors look for external injuries or do a 'finger test'.

"It is a physical examination to check if the hymen is torn. It may not work for sexually active women, those who are athletic or for women who use tampons," said Dr Jayashree Gajaraj, former president, Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Society of India. Traces of semen can be used as evidence, but the woman has to be taken for a medical test within 24 hours. A semen sample collected after 48 hours is likely to be just a fragment and may not be useful for a DNA test to establish the identity of the rapist. Often, women are brought to forensic experts only after a week. "In 78 hours, the injuries to the vaginal walls may start healing. After a week, there is no evidence," said forensic expert Dr V Dikal.

Forensic experts say the lack of awareness among doctors hits the conviction rate. Senior forensic professor Dr R Selvakumar said patient histories and observations are recorded on small out-patient sheets. The state government has distributed forms that doctors should use for medical tests in the case of rape but most doctors are unaware of this. "The form acts like a guide for a doctor to look for specific clues. It is important for doctors to look for details like human hair or nail," he said.



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