Revolt against rape

Six-year-old raped and murdered in Jaffna. It led to an uncharacteristic public outburst by the Deputy Minister whose portfolio included protecting women and children.

* Rape and murder of 18-year-old Sivaloganathan causing massive public outcry in Kilinochchi, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu and Jaffna. The accused allegedly filmed the gang rape.

* Seya Sadewmi was a four-year-old Sri Lankan child who was abducted, raped and murdered.

* Colombo High Court imposes death sentence in Kirulapone rape case on an accused who raped and killed a six-year-old girl who was said to be his niece.

* 14-year-old girl gang raped in Tissamaharama. “I’m dying…If I had done wrong to my family, relatives or friends, I’m sorry. I love my friends and family.” Letter written by a 14-year-old girl, to her parents, friends and family. This young girl took her own life, after she was gang raped by three young men -one of them was her boyfriend. The victim’s family found her hanging from a tree.

Rape is a subject on which this writer has worked on for a considerable period of time. One sad story related to that of a teenager raped taking lunch for his farmer father. The case dragged for years. Another was an instance in which a father stood accused of raping three of his four daughters with the knowledge of their mother, one of whom bore a child. More recently a woman who had been raped whilst also having her husband taken away missing to date, asked what crime she or others in similar circumstances has committed to be raped. She refused the concept of reparation or damages and was concerned about ensuring future generations do not have to face similar experiences as hers.

Addressing sexual and gender-based violence

Around 60% of Sri Lankan women are reported to be suffering from some form of domestic abuse, while a study of the 250 university students who had spent at least three years at universities have found that 72.2% of female respondents had faced gender-based violence during their time at universities.

The Ministry of Women and Child Affairs launched the Policy Framework and National Plan of Action (NPA) to address Sexual and Gender-based Violence with the aid of the UNDP. The NPA is the first national-level agreement that allows several ministries to work together to end VAW. Nine ministries, including the Economic Development and Employment, Education, Empowerment and Prevention, Health and Justice and Law Reform, have worked to draft plans that each of them would implement with the hope of eradicating SGBV in Sri Lanka. The NPA’s goals are to guarantee violence free lives for women and children and also to create an environment of zero tolerance for gender-based violence in the country.

In her speech at the launching ceremony Chandrani Bandara, Minister of Women and Child Affairs, noted that educating the population was essential to eliminating the grave problem of SGBV, which, she said, lies largely hidden in society and is further reinforced by the culture of silence.

Incest is common but very rarely reported. The subject of violence against women has been written on ad nauseum. Each time a woman or girl child or even a boy or man is raped the impact is radioactive. Support is scarce. Relief nearly useless.

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Empowering young women

The framework undertakes a three-pronged approach: prevention, intervention, and advocacy and formulation of policies and laws. The prevention portion of the NPA is aimed at taking action before SGBV occurs. It concentrates on curtailing the factors that lead to violence and addressing the motivating causes of SGBV. This is essentially an attempt to change the culture that condones VAW. Implementation would focus on raising awareness of SGBV, working to change people’s attitudes about the issue and educate both men and women about the deleterious effects of VAW.

A central tenet of the NPA lies in educating various at-risk populations, including groups such as children and estate workers about the issue, while also promoting positive gender relations, challenging gender stereotypes and running workshops to teach people about the existing laws and regulations that deal with SGBV.

Moreover, the ministries also plan to educate and empower young girls and women to protect themselves against SGBV, while also teaching young boys and men not to perpetrate acts of VAW.

Alternative pathway

Different groups of victims may require different options: offending by young offenders and adult offenders, intra-familial sexual abuse, sibling abuse, abuse between juveniles, child victims of abuse and adult survivors of child abuse, known and stranger assault.

The adversarial criminal justice system serves an important symbolic function in the censure and punishment of sexual assault, but in practice provides effective justice for a relatively small proportion of victims.

A starting point for use of an alternative pathway would be, first, the desire of the victim to take an alternative pathway and, second, the willingness of the offender to accept responsibility for the harm and to proceed through the restorative pathway.

Restorative justice mechanisms can be employed at various points in the process, such as pre-trial diversion from court, or pre-sentencing and also post prison.

Victims also clearly want ‘an opportunity to share their story in an unhurried, comprehensive way in a safe and nonthreatening environment’. Victims want reassurance that the violence will stop. Just as the offence has taken away their control, the criminal justice process also risks their continued disempowerment and indeed irrelevance. A process is needed that does not reinforce their ‘victim’ status, and that gives them a genuine voice. Effective justice is expected to include a reduced risk of the harm being repeated. The relevant Ministries with the Law and Order agencies have to become serious if the acts of assaults on women are to be reduced. We have the means and the knowledge. Our commitment to address the issues have been poor, lethargic and ineffective.