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Reporting Sexual abuse cases: What doctors must know?

M3 India Newsdesk Oct 28, 2018

In our Sunday Series, we bring to you a popular article from our archives that throws light on the important pointers for doctors when they have to report sexual abuse cases.








The Government of India has made it obligatory for public and private healthcare professionals to provide the required help to victims of sexual assault. Denial of treatment of rape survivors is punishable under Section 166 B IPC with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.

Health professionals need to respond comprehensively to the needs of survivors.

Medical Professionals play dual role in case of Sexual Abuse or Rape cases. Firstly by providing medical and psychological treatment and secondly by helping the victim to collect evidence, preserve evidence and guide in the prosecution of the Offender.

After making an assessment in relation to the severity of sexual violence, the first responsibility is to provide medical treatment and attend the victim’s needs. Normally examination is to be done by the Doctor at the Government Hospital or at the Hospitals run by a Local body, however, in their absence, it can be done by any Medical Practitioner. Both Public and Private Medical Professionals are obliged to provide treatment free of cost, to the victims of Rape and Acid attack. Before examination of the victim, it is advised to obtain the consent of the Patient and record the consent, also record the exact time of start and close the examination.

A very important first step is to contact psychological support and validation so that the rapport with the victim can be established. Then the victim needs to be explained in simple and understandable language the rationale for various procedures and details of how they will be performed. While examining the victim, complete confidentiality should be ensured so that, the victim can reveal the entire history to the Medical Officer. Specific steps different from each other are required to be taken if the victim is a child, person with a disability, LGBTI person and sex worker.

The fact that genital examination may be uncomfortable but is necessary for legal purposes should be explained to the survivor. The survivor should be informed about the need to carry out additional procedures such as x-rays, etc which may require him/her to visit other departments. While performing the examination, the purpose of the forensic medical examination is to form an opinion on the following:

i) Whether a sexual act has been attempted or completed.

ii)Sexual acts include genital, anal or oral penetration by the penis, fingers or other objects as well as any form of nonconsensual sexual touching.

iii) A sexual act may not only be penetration by the penis but also slightest penetration of the vulva by the penis, such as a minimal passage of the glans between the labia with or without emission of semen or rupture of the hymen.

iv) Whether such a sexual act is recent, and whether any harm has been caused to the victim's body.

This could include injuries inflicted on the victim by the Offender and by the victim on the Offender. However, the absence of signs of struggle does not imply consent. The age of the victim needs to be verified in the case of adolescent girls/boys. Whether alcohol or drugs have been administered to the victim needs to be verified.

Police personnel must not be allowed in the examination room during the consultation with the victim. If the victim requests, her relative may be allowed to remain present while the examination is done.

There must be no delay in conducting an examination and collecting evidence. Providing treatment and necessary medical investigations is the prime responsibility of the examining doctor. Admission, evidence collection or filing a police complaint is not mandatory for providing treatment. The history taking and examination should be carried out in complete privacy in the special room set up in the hospital for examination of sexual violence victim.

Proper determination and documentation of the findings by the attending doctor can go a long way in restoring the well being of the victim, at least to some extent.  

This article was originally published on 08.10.17



The writer is a practicing High Court Advocate.The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the writers and forum participants on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the editors or publisher of the website. Readers are advised to exercise their own judgment while using the content. 

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