4. Trauma Centres that Don’t Add Trauma
THE CLERK told me a male doctor will conduct the test (forensic examination) and asked me whether that was ok. I said ‘yes’… I was so scared and nervous and praying all the time: ‘God, let this be over and let me get out of here fast.’ I didn’t even know it was going to be like a delivery examination (an internal gynecological examination).” This account from Mumbai is how Human Rights Watch begins its report on the way in which forensic examinations of rape victims are conducted.
The report came out in 2010 but anecdotal evidence suggests little has changed since then. The report also found that at least three leading government hospitals in Mumbai still conduct the two-finger test. Where two fingers are thrust up the often damaged and bruised rape victim’s vagina to check if her hymen is broken and whether she regularly has sex or not. In fact, the Delhi and Maharashtra governments brought out new templates for forensically examining rape victims in 2010 that make it de rigueur to ask for the hymen size
Far removed from this government-endorsed misogyny, a Mumbai-based NGO, Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, has been working on an alternative. It has in place training and manuals for doctors, nurses and counsellors dealing with rape victims. They have also brought out a Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Kit (Safe Kit) with cue cards and easy-to-use devices for forensic teams examining rape victims. It is in use in Rajawadi Hospital and Oshiwara Maternity Home in Mumbai.
Dr Abhijit Das, a community health specialist and head of the Centre for Health and Social Justice, laments that healthcare is still not acknowledged to be an essential part of the crisis management and care given to a victim even though the first interface for her is most often the hospital. “The procedures prescribed are archaic and inappropriate, and even those aren’t carried out properly,” he says. At the trauma centres, victims are often asked to take a bath without any care given to collecting clothes and samples of semen before crucial evidence is washed away.
Another problem is the predicament of the doctor who conducts the forensic exam and pronounces the case to be rape. Since the case drags on for years, the doctor is now at the receiving end of the system and years after he/she is transferred out of his/her post, is expected to make trips to the court to be there in person and tell the court once again all that is already there in the written report. “Even the best-intentioned medical officer often feels harassed,” says Das.