Indian women and girls with disabilities who survive sexual violence face more barriers in the justice system, a new report by the Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The report, titled Invisible Victims of Sexual Violence: Access to Justice for Women and Girls with Disabilities in India, pointed out that India has made significant legal reforms after the 2012 Delhi gangrape, which speed up trials and ensure stricter punishments in sexual violence cases. However, there were still gaps in implementation – which particularly affect women and girls with disabilities.
“Since 2013, India has made important legal reforms on sexual violence, but women and girls with disabilities still lack equal access to justice,” Nidhi Goyal, a disability rights activist and co-author of the report, said.
The report was compiled after Human Rights Watch investigated 17 cases of rape and gang rape across eight states – Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal.
The cases included eight girls and nine women, all living with different kinds of disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, and psychosocial disability, the group said.
The authors spoke to 111 people, including sexual violence survivors, their family and lawyers, mental health institutions, police and government officials, activists, and special educators. They found that such women and girls face several challenges in the justice process – right from reporting the abuse to the police to getting medical care and ensuring their complaints investigated and reach the court.
The study pointed out that despite the legal reforms, many women who survive rape and other sexual violence continue to face humiliation at police stations and hospitals and encounter problems such as the police being unwilling to register their complaints, and medical professionals still conducting the “two-finger” tests. It said that for women with disabilities, these challenges were even greater as they may not be able to call for help, or even know that they should report sexual violence against them.
The study found that few police officers were trained in providing the kind of support such survivors need, and that the country’s criminal justice system had failed to implement the 2013 reforms on police and judicial training for a better environment for survivors with disabilities. While some states had adopted good practices, the report said, they were “the exceptions, not the norm”.
When it came to monetary compensation for the survivors, the study found that even in extreme cases of violence and economic hardship, women and girls with disabilities found it difficult to secure the compensation due to them.
The report said while India had taken “important steps to reform the criminal justice system to include women and girls with disabilities”, it found that there was a greater “need for action and implementation”. “Indian women and girls with disabilities should no longer remain the invisible victims of sexual violence,” Goyal, said.