Rape is a crime and social problem


Rape is a crime and social problem that is somewhat regarded lightly and of least priority or concern despite the fact that the victims suffer from grave physical, mental, and emotional consequences.
While the term ‘rape’ simply means ‘having sexual intercourse with another individual forcefully without his or her consent,’ it is a heinous crime with devastating implications. The act may be carried out through physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or against a person who is incapable of valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, or below the legal age of consent. The term rape is, sometimes, used interchangeably with the term sexual assault. 
Studies globally shows that in the aftermath of rape, many survivors/victims experience painful and difficut emotions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While some survive physically, they undergo lots of psychological distress such as self blame, self pity, worthlessness and suicidal tendencies throughout their life. The physical implications include unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases or health problems, and serious disruptions on the woman’s bodily functions. The consequences of rape include the following:
  • A victim may conceive a child if she has reached puberty and in most cases, rape victims opt to abort/disown the child. In Bhutan, the victims mostly give birth irrespective of abortion given as an option in the law due to absence of a clear procedure.  
  • Rape victims are also at risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other STDs. 
  • Since rape is a form of forced intercourse, the victim’s body usually suffers physical injury particularly to their private and other parts of the reproductive system, the risks being greater if the rape victim is a child or a very young teen. In addition, rape victims are often beaten up, tortured and killed. For example, the murder cases of Paro and Dechencholing in 2019 of two minor girls (8 and 10 years old), one raped and the other suspected of rape, are examples of the heinous crimes committed against minors. Around the same time, in Dagana a five year old girl was raped, a four year old girl was molested in the CFM at Thimphu and a 6 year old boy was raped in Paro. 
  • The foremost psychological effect of rape is emotional trauma and paranoia. The victim shows symptoms of mental and emotional trauma through solitude and exclusion. They also develop fear in mingling and socializing with strangers and other people especially men. These effects can last for the duration of a victim’s lifetime.
  • It also causes the victim to  be in a devastated mental state, and be steeped in self-blame or self-pity for the crime and often induce a thoughts or tendencies of committing suicide in victims. This is also caused by the social stigma that societies wrongly attribute to the victim. As a result, they are deprived of the care and services they should receive from families and society at large, and is instead accused of provocative behavior and of having invited the rape. 
Overall, rape victims are not given due consideration and the response is often negative lacking social and legal justice, placing the blame squarely on the victims themselves. As a result, they are often stigmatized and left to battle with the aftermath of the rape alone. On the other hand, the offender leads a normal life with or without paying for the offence committed, as not all survivors/victims are able to get justice. 
The data for Bhutan sourced from the Office of the Attorney General, indicates that from 2009 to 2020, there were:
    •  372 cases of child rape and molestation (41 cases of statutory rape; 286 cases of rape of children above 12 years; 20 cases of gang rape of a child; and 25 cases of child molestation).
    • 158 cases of rape of a woman (23 cases of rape of a woman; 21 cases of gangrape of a woman; 26 cases of rape of a married woman; and 9 cases of gang rape of a married woman).
  • 30 cases of criminal attempt to rape a child (19 for statutory rape and 11 cases for children above 12 years).
  • 59 cases of criminal attempt to rape a woman (41 cases of attempt to rape a woman and 18 cases of attempt to rape a married woman).
As per the data, there was an average of 4 cases every month in the last 11 years, of rape of women and children.  Out of the total 530 cases of rape reported, 70% comprised of rape of children. Analyzing the sentencing of the cases, 64% of the cases were convicted, 22% are still pending before court, around 6% have been acquitted and the rest have been returned for review or have been deferred or dismissed. 
In a desk study carried out by the National Commission for Women and Children on Rape of Minors, out of 45 cases reviewed, 71.1% of the perpetrators were given the minimum punishment - 81% for no particular reason and for the rest the mitigating circumstances was taken into consideration based on the fact that the perpetrator had no previous criminal record. Over 60% of the victims were known to the perpetrators and 16% of the victims were related by consanguinity. A common pattern of awarding the minimum sentence was observed. 
The data and the findings indicate the need for more effective strategies and interventions in minimizing and preventing such offences through reviewing legislations and making punishments stronger amongst other actions. The Penal Code of Bhutan recognizes sexual intercourse with a child below the age of 18 years as a penal offence. Section 182 of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2011, states that the offence of statutory rape shall be a felony of the first degree. Considering that most of the perpetrators are those who are in a position of trust with the child, in order to deter such acts, there is a need to raise the penalty to life sentence if the defendant is in a position of authority or trust towards the child, or where a child is in a relationship of dependency or a relationship that is exploitative of the child.
Section 178 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 provides that “The offence of rape shall be a felony of the fourth degree” which is a minimum of three years imprisonment. In light of the devastating consequences physically, emotionally/psychologically and socially, the sentence needs to be reviewed and made much more stringent in order to ensure justice to the survivors/victims and also to deter such heinous crimes in the future. 
In December 2019, several actions were taken to strengthen and enable a safe and protective environment for our children including recommendations to amend the relevant penal provisions related to sexual offences committed against children. The data on cases of rape of a woman also indicate the need for more stringent Whether we are the lawmakers, the implementers or the  public in general, each one of us is responsible for creating a society free from such crimes. It has been also observed that there is a general lack of awareness on the provisions of existing legislations and inconsistency in its application, the need to strengthen forensic services and capacities on evidence building and sensitization of the general public on the issue. It is time that we do the right thing, demand changes, provide the education and awareness and encourage actions that will change society’s attitudes towards rape and find ways to eliminate this intolerable evil once and for all.