— Ravi Nayak

Although humans across the globe are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of rape have failed to cease. While we are trying to recuperate from the mental as well as physical exhaustion brought about by the pandemic, learning about an increase in rape cases is certainly saddening.

According to a recent report by WOREC (Women’s Rehabilitation Centre), 231 cases of domestic violence against women and girls were reported during one month of the lockdown period (24 March -23 April 2020) from 15 districts of Nepal. Among the 231 cases, 34 were cases of rape; seven were attempt to rape; and 10 were cases of sexual abuse.

Our conscience often raises a question on humanity or the lack of it whenever we read news about rape. News stories of rape make us ponder why rapes happen and where our system fails in curbing such heinous crime.

Increasing incidents of rape is a result of our inconsiderate legal mechanism, political institutions, social institution, and the government. Experts have highlighted that most cases of rape, sexual assault, or violence against girls and women usually take place in the survivors’ immediate surroundings. Culprits could be family members, friends, neighbors, employers, and even online friends.

Most people in Nepali society believe that rapes occur when uneducated men from impoverished and rural backgrounds encounter girls wearing short dresses. Many don’t hesitate to argue that women’s dresses and their behaviors are responsible for rape. Such phenomenon is called victim blaming and it fails to hold the perpetrators liable while also failing to dig deep into the genuine causes of rape.

Lack of sex education, people’s socio-cultural backgrounds, misogynistic society, and patriarchal mindset which treat women as nothing but sexual/reproductive objects are some of the main reasons behind rape. A patriarchal society that equates a man’s sexual prowess to the violence he can exert and puts the value of a woman’s dignity in her vagina enables rape.

The inability to identify causes of rape or provide the perpetrators as well as survivors with appropriate counseling is a failure of the justice system.

Similarly, exerting pop culture notions like “no means yes” and “pseudo feminism” are also dangerous. Shutting down women every time they try to talk about the abuses faced at the hands of men prevents women from sharing their stories and pushes the society further from understanding rape.

Men are often led to believe that they are personally not responsible for their actions because their biology makes them more sexually dominant than women. This very mindset in fact encourages rape.

The worst part is that Nepali society is deep-rooted in patriarchy which has created a “second-class” status for women. Many also argue that Nepal’s legal system is the main cause of rape but on the same floor, one cannot ignore the social aspects.

Till date, most cases of rape go unreported because the survivors who report the crime are subjected to victim blaming, humiliation, and mistreatment from the society as well as police. Majority of rape survivors do not believe they’ll get justice even if they report the crime, which unfortunately is true more often than not.

The lack of timely reporting of the crime puts the burden of proving the crime on the survivors. Our judicial and policing systems need to allow reforms so as to change such a practice.

In many rape cases in Nepal, evidences are manhandled by investigation officers, families of rape survivors are threatened, rape survivors are coerced into marrying their rapists to diffuse the situation, and even the judiciary fails to deliver justice.

In many cases where highly influential personalities are accused of rape, they try to use their powerful connections either politically, economically or bureaucratically and manage to easily get away with the crime. Misuse of power creates hurdles in FIR registration and forces the survivors to withdraw their complaints.

Rape exists because men believe they can easily get away with it. Though rape is a non-bailable offense in Nepal, people do get bail in many cases due to the lack of evidence. Indeed, in many cases, the accused are sheltered by police, or politicians, or even lawyers. The rate of conviction remains substantially low.

The problem in Nepal, however, is not so much with the law. It’s the execution of the law. It’s about law enforcement from the police to the judicial system. We do need reforms, not only in the laws, but also in the ways they are executed.

In a country like Nepal, where people don’t have much faith in the police, majority of citizens live in fear of assault, there is low conviction rate, and rape is massively underreported, there is a need for landslide changes in legal as well as social aspects.

Tough laws are not the solution rather laws need to be effective and investigating agencies as well as prosecution should be more proficient and efficient. Hearing of rape cases should be fast tracked in the courts. Executive institutions should be stronger and government should be more vigilant.

Most importantly, people’s mindsets need to be changed through education.

Nayak is a 4th year BALLB (Hons) student at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. He is a resident of Janakpur.