A healing touch for sexual assault victimshttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/a-healing-touch-for-sexual-assault-victims/

A healing touch for sexual assault victims

Dilaasa follows a three-fold system in providing aid to victims

To help victims deal with the stigma of rape and sexual assault,the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) and Centre for Enquiry into health and allied themes (CEHAT) set up Dilaasa in 2000. Run from two hospitals — Bandra’s Bhabha Hospital and Kurla’s Bhabha Hospital,Dilaasa follows a three-fold system in providing aid to victims. Besides offering medico-legal support and counselling services,Dilaasa trains health professionals on how to deal with victims of sexual assault.

Currently,Dilaasa counsels victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from Rajawadi,R N Cooper and Bhabha Hospital. The initiative has helped over 3,000 victims cope with the stigma of being sexually violated.

“The public hospitals methodically follow protocols while conducting a test on a rape victim. We realised there were serious shortcomings during the procedure of evidence collection. That is when we launched Dilaasa. Our aim is to train doctors to patiently ask victims questions which can help in collecting evidence against perpetrators,” said Dr Seema Malik,project director and head of secondary health care services in MCGM.

In 2012,one of the victims who sought counselling from Dilaasa was a 16-year-old girl. First mugged and then raped over a period of 72 hours,the girl managed to escape the perpetrators. During the counselling session,it took the teenager over two days to communicate with the counsellors. Most people around her refused to believe that she was raped and said she had consensual sex,the girl told her counsellors.

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This is not an isolated case. Most victims of sexual assault face this stigma. Besides,if doctors fail to treat victims with sensitivity,they are traumatised further. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB),24,923 rape cases and 45,351 molestation were reported in India in 2012.

Chitra Joshi,project-in-charge,stated,“We receive two kinds of victims — one who frankly mentions about being subjected to sexual assault and the other who tries to pass it off as an accident. Here the sensitivity of doctor who deals with the woman is important. So the doctors need to be trained.”

From April 2008-2012,Dilaasa recorded 94 cases. Of the 94,51 victims were below the age of 12. Most victims also belonged to the underprivileged section.

“We train doctors to handle children with care and patience as they are already traumatised after being assaulted. Stress affects the victim’s health. So it is important for a hospital to cater to these factors,” said Sangeeta Rege from CEHAT.

Dilaasa besides counselling and providing legal-aid to victims,also follows up the cases. According to Joshi,60 per cent of the victims keep in touch with the centre after their first counselling session.

“Earlier,rape victims had to undergo two-finger test of virginity. Now it has been banned. Also,now victims can be examined in any hospital,public or private. Doctors there cannot refuse to examine them,” said Joshi.

However,according to Joshi,three to 10 women,who are referred to them daily,are victims of domestic violence. These victims,Joshi said,refuse to admit that they have been physically assaulted. “Doctors usually do not conduct proper medical examination on victims of domestic violence as they think it’s their personal matter,” she said.

According to Malik,training health professionals have enabled them treat victims of domestic violence better. “We provide the doctors a ‘safe kit’ which has all tools necessary for medical examination,” Malik said.

Rege said there are plans of expanding Dilaasa to other states. “We will open similar centres in Meghalaya,Karnataka,Gujarat and Kerala,” Rege said.