On 28th June ‘12, a female student from Amity University, filed a rape complaint with the Noida police.
This was two weeks after the incident occurred, when she had finally built up the courage to come out and speak about her ordeal. According to her report, on the afternoon of 14th June, 2012, she met with one of her classmates, Prashant, in Vasant Vihar to watch a movie. Prashant thereafter allegedly got her intoxicated, drove her to a secluded place in Paschim Vihar where he had called Milind, another classmate from Amity University, and together they gang-raped her.
It is unclear if the victim and her alleged rapist, Prashant, were in a relationship but it was clear at the time of investigation, that they were classmates and friends. In sexual assault cases like this, where the victim knows the perpetrator, it becomes difficult for the prosecution to establish the absence of consent between two individuals who are otherwise known to have a mutually trusting relationship. Consent, as we know, is critical to the legal definition of rape.
The victim claimed that the physical and sexual assaults she suffered from the experience had left her traumatized.
She was examined for physical assault on the day after the incident i.e. 15th June, 2012. Since she claimed to be in distress, she was referred to a senior psychiatrist at AIIMS. After 14 days, she revealed the full story including the sexual assault; at which point she was admitted to AIIMS for medical examination for rape. During this initial medical examination, she claimed that she had cut her leg during the struggle, but no wounds were discovered on her person. Later, she said she was beaten using an ice bag. No bruises were found to confirm that either. Though her testimony of the chain of events falters, it could definitely be attributed to the traumatic experience she had had. Victims usually try to block out the memories of the crime afflicted upon them.
The usual life span of a sperm outside the male body is roughly 72 hours.
This is why the guidelines and protocols for medico-legal care of victims of sexual violence, as stipulated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, states that there is no need for vaginal swabbing for sperm DNA 96 hrs after assault. Her case was not helped as she only spoke about the rape 14 days after the incident occurred. By this time it would have been difficult to get any pertinent DNA evidence through medical examination. She had probably washed herself several times in the meantime too, thus causing further loss of the perpetrator’s DNA.
The absence of physical bruises and wounds does not translate into non-occurrence of physical assault.
However, medical examination could have indicated if there was evidence of abrasions or lacerations in and around the genitalia which could, in turn, have provided considerable support to the prosecution’s case. But it is not unknown for physical and sexual assault to not leave physical evidence on the body, or for it to be visible upto two weeks after the incident. Allegations made of ‘unnatural sex’ also remained unverifiable medically.
In concurrence with her later claim that she was beaten up with an ice bag, it can be proven that solid ice, if struck with enough force, could result in contusions that could possibly be visible 14 days after they were made. However, since no visible blood clots were noted in the medical examinations done on 15th June and two weeks later, her claims of physical assault were refuted.
Does consent to spend ‘quality’ time together translate to consent to being violated?
It was found through the phone text records that the girl had arranged to meet Prashant to spend some ‘quality time’ with him. This was used by the defence to indicate the girl’s participation.
The defence used poor medical and forensic investigation, as well as the fact that the girl was very unclear about the location of the crime scene and how she was beaten up, to support their plea. The defence pointed out that a bag of ice used to allegedly beat her up could not remain solid at the room temperatures and conditions (only a fan, no fridge) described by the girl. It is still unclear whether the court entertained the possibility of the existence of a cooler box or mini-fridge in cars or adjoining rooms. The fact that there was no scene of crime investigation by the police didn’t help the case either. There could have been possible body fluid evidence (DNA from semen or blood) from either victim or accused at the crime scene which could have gone a long way to link either to the scene and thus, the crime.
The more the delay in collecting forensic evidence, the more difficult it gets to prove a case.
So far, the prosecution seems to be having a hard time corroborating any evidence, however remote, to the facts stated by the victim. The trial case slowly begins to fall apart and it begins to look like another rape victim shall be denied justice because of unmet forensic and judicial provisions. Needless to say, the court eventually ruled in favour of the accused.
Some of the key evidence that made the case in favour of the two boys was the cellphone records that indicated that there were calls made to and from the girl’s phone during the time she alleged she was being raped. The girl spoke to her parents and friends for at least five minutes each, without letting on any hint of being in trouble. She could have been in mortal fear of her life if she were being threatened by either men but none of the many people she spoke to detected that something was off, neither did she indicate to them in any way that she was in trouble. This postulation, at best, is circumstantial.
Records also show that on the night of 14th June, 2012, the two boys dropped off their very drunk batch mate at a police barricade in Vasant Vihar, from where they had asked her parents to pick her up. This hardly seems like the behaviour of people who have violated the law.
Even though she claimed to be mentally distraught and traumatised by the incident, the doctor who treated her on the day after the incident claims she was coherent and ‘perfectly in her senses’ then. However, this could be a subjective view, there is no way of definitively saying how her mental state might have been. But her psychiatrist confirmed that she was not convinced of her patient’s distress and other psychological problems she claimed to have.
Medical examinations, conducted one day after and again two weeks later did not provide enough evidence to consider rape or physical assault.
It becomes tricky for either side to prove a case beyond doubt due to lack of forensic evidence.
Most evidence presented in this case are circumstantial and could be explained in light of several perspectives, as we have tried to do. The absence of verifiable forensic evidence in this case is what prevents this case from having the decisive edge. “The judgement made in this case, by all appearances and reasoning, is believed to be just. However, it rests mostly on believing that certain postulations are correct – It is most likely that anyone who is being physically assaulted will try to convey their distress in any phone call they make or that two people who have just raped a girl will not be bold enough to then escort her back to her parents. But who is to say how criminals should behave and crimes should occur.” – says Poulomi Bhadra, our in-house forensic expert.
While the Indian Law lets the burden of proof in case of sexual assault rest on the accused, and with good reason, it could lead to misuse of the justice system.
This is a good example of misuse of this judicial bias where the two innocent boys were incarcerated for a year and spend two years in court proceedings; not to mention the mental trauma that the boys and their families went through as well as the future repercussions of this conviction on their lives and careers. No monetary compensation can make up for the lost years and reputation.
Article written by Chandini Pradeep Kumar (JGLS ’13)
Edited by Poulomi Bhadra