Recently in India, there is renewed attention drawn to the vulnerability of women with disabilities when it comes to rape. Protests were sparked after the murder of a 23 year-old woman who was brutally gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi as reported by Ashok Sharma in the Huffington Post.
Young people, both male and female, protested against the Indian government’s lack of adequate prosecution of cases involving sexual abuse and harassment of women. They were demanding gender equity in enforcement in these matters.
In an effort to point out that the problem was particularly egregious for women with disabilities, a letter was issued by the Women with Disabilities India Network. It called on the Indian government to include women with disabilities in the discussions to address the problem in law, policy and/or practice.
Advocates assert women with disabilities face the double discrimination of gender and disability in India. They believe that in the judicial system, the testimony of women with disabilities is often disregarded or not even taken.
In a recent case in Trombay reported by Malathy Iyer in the Times of India, a 16 year-old girl who is deaf and speech impaired was allegedly gang raped on numerous occasions. It was reported after her mother noticed her daughter’s emotional instability. According to the story, the local police initially failed to record her testimony correctly because the interpreter had been her mother.
Only later did the police record her testimony with qualified interpreters and counselors. But having two police versions of testimony can complicate prosecution.
Advocates point that achieving justice is difficult. First, there is the difficulty of rape going unreported due to communication issues involving the victims or as in some cases because the victim is unable to comprehend or communicate at all about such acts of violence .
Then if reported, testimony can be compromised for a number of reasons – because police aren’t aware of the best, most accurate ways to communicate with victims and because they fail to record testimony or, if they do, to do so correctly. This can lead to the testimony of the alleged victim being disregarded or disqualified and, consequently, result in unjust acquittals.
According to a report by Shounak Ghosal in The Times of India, a petition brought forth by women’s organizations and disability rights organizations, “Girls and women with disabilities are more vulnerable to exploitation. They are considered soft targets, with the perpetrators assuming they can get easily get away with violent crimes against them. As a result, some reports suggest they are up to three times more likely to be victims of abuse as compared to other women”.
In 2012, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was introduced to India’s legislature for consideration addressing these problems. If successful it would be India’s first law targeting sexual offenses against persons with disabilities.