Evidencing Rape: Does the System Believe Women?

Disbelief in women's narratives, especially, with regard to rape and sexual assault is systemic.

Durba Mitra and Mrinal Satish, in their article "Testing Chastity, Evidencing Rape: Impact of Medical Jurisprudence on Rape Adjudication in India," argue that in cases of rape, legal reforms are often undermined, because at the root of it all, courts continue to rely on medical jurisprudence textbooks that operate on colonial biases. Used extensively to regulate the colonised populations in the early 20th century, medical jurisprudence books (especially in the Indian context) worked on the assumption that Indians were untrustworthy, particularly when it came to women's rape accusations.

The first text book on medical jurisprudence, written by Norman Chevers in 1856, institutionalised this stereotypical viewing of women and their bodies. Chevers believed that the "objective" and "scientific" evidence required to debunk (assumed) false allegations of rape could be found in a woman's "habituation" to sex, the state of her hymen and the injuries on her body.

Chevers' book was followed by Isador B Lyon's textbook in 1888. Both these books laid the foundation for recent textual renditions of medical jurisprudence by Jaising P Modi and Champaklal Keshavlal Parikh. Modi has gone on to become the most cited textbook on forensic medicine by Indian courts. 

Through these books, evidencing of rape not only perpetuates stereotypes of women, their character and bodies, but it begins with and is pegged to the assumption that women make false allegations of rape. This shifts the narrative itself from proving or disproving the crime, to disproving the claim of the survivor

To view the recommended procedure to evidence rape, follow this flowchart 






Curated by: Akshita Mathur (akshita@epw.in)

Designed by: Gulal Salil (gulal@epw.in)

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