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Saturday 20 December  
Indian doctors told to stop using invasive test in rape cases
Sara Nics's picture
Mumbai, India
Mumbai, India

Treating victims right; changing India’s protocols on rape

Published on : 21 March 2011 - 1:56pm | By Sara Nics (frisse82)
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After being sexually assaulted, usually the last thing a victim wants is to go through a painful, invasive physical examination.  In India, the so-called “finger test” is standard protocol for forensic examinations of women who claim rape or sexual assault.

During the test, the medical examiner inserts fingers into a woman’s vagina to theoretically measure how often she has sex. Although results from the test are legally irrelevant, the procedure is practiced around the country. In a traditionally modest culture like India, such a practice is especially abhorrent and terrifying for young girls.

Now the practice may be on the way out.  Last week, Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad wrote to government hospitals telling them not to conduct the tests without victims’ consent.

The announcement is a positive sign says Sana Contractor, a research officer with India’s Centre for Inquiry into Health and Allied Themes. “We will have to see how [the minister’s directive] plays out in real terms. What we really need is health policy that adequately addresses violence against women.”

Unnecessary and invasive

Contractor’s organization has been working in three Mumbai hospitals to develop protocols for medical and legal care of sexual assault victims. Although more than 21,000 Indian women reported being raped in 2009, many cases go unreported. Rape carries a great stigma in the country. Victims are often punished or ostracized by their communities, and girls who are raped often find it difficult to marry.  

When they do go to hospital for treatment, Contractor says, women's care varies widely. In many hospitals women are only examined for evidence of assault. In some, women are also given medical care and emergency contraceptive pills. Psychological support is almost universally absent, Contractor says. The widely-used finger test can further traumatize a woman, and Contractor says it is forensically unnecessary.

“The two-finger test is used to determine whether a woman is accustomed to sexual intercourse, which has nothing to do with whether she has been sexually assaulted,” she says. “Recent legal rulings have made a woman’s sexual history irrelevant in sexual violence cases, but somehow these things still seem to make it through to court.”

Education needed to make policy stick

It is currently the judge’s decision whether or not to use the results of the test in a given case, says Meenakshi Galguly. She is South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch. Last year her organization released a report on the state of medical and legal care of rape survivors in India, focusing criticism on the test. She says that a statement from the health ministry is not enough.

“It has to be a public education initiative,” Galguly says. “Doctors are taught to do this test in medical school.  It’s taught as standard practice in rape cases. The notice needs to go down to each public hospital, along with instructions to doctors and emergency room workers on how to deal with sexual assault. ”

Sana Contractor says that when a woman shows up in a hospital claiming to have been raped, most of the emphasis is on collecting evidence for possible legal proceedings. Contractor says that any new protocol must emphasize taking care of the victims medically, legally and psychologically. 

Questioning the government’s commitment

Meanwhile, the union government’s 2011 budget has cut funding by 85 per cent for a program to fund compensation and care of rape victims, on the grounds that it was underutilized. Contractor says that the government had no guidelines for how the fund was to be used, and made no effort to let medical professionals and victims’ support organization know that it was available. Both Contractor and Galguly say that bungled programs like that leave them wondering – recent announcements aside – how committed the government really is to giving rape survivors proper care. 



prassoon suryadas 29 March 2011 - 9:49pm / usa

If a test can more credibility to the claim and make the case stronger to bring more punishment to the offender why should a genuine victim opt out from that? Why is diluting rape probe termed "progressive"?

jasmin 28 March 2011 - 4:28pm

More than 90% of rape cases claimed by women are fakes. They do it under parental pressure when they have love affairs or there is a case of elopement.In both the cases the boys are arrested for something they did not do, or happened with consent, which is not rape.Moreover, crying rape is a sure-shot method to trap any person to settle personal scores or enemities in the family,or to label security forces in the insurgent areas. Does Sana Contractor want injustice for innocent boys/men, if there is only the statement of these women against the innocent person, taken to be as valid?

farm10tonever 22 March 2011 - 4:56pm

I'm confused. What exactly is this finger test supposed to prove? If you can fit your finger in a woman's vagina, she's a whore?

chhavi 21 March 2011 - 2:20pm / india

The whole issue is sickening. It's ludicrous that the burden of proving sexual assault is on the victim, rather than proving innocence on the accused and this humiliating (let alone unscientific) is this!

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