Women’s History Roundtable: Responses to Sexual Assault in Chennai: Field Notes, Divya Bhat (13 April 2013)

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Rapporteur: Shakthi Manickavasagam

This month’s roundtable discussion featured Divya Bhat, Prajnya’s first Shakti Fellow, who is in Chennai to conduct fieldwork for her dissertation on responses to sexual assault, as part of her master’s in Medical Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Amsterdam. Divya presented her preliminary findings, and systematically traced the journey of a rape survivor through law enforcement, hospitals and the judiciary, outlining the challenges faced at every step.

Divya’s focus on medical professionals has meant that most of her interviews have been with doctors and forensic experts. She stressed the importance of collecting strong forensic evidence that could conclusively prove a rape in court, as the case could otIMG_3173herwise devolve into a ‘he said, she said’ battle. She observed that the system was weighted against victims of rape, noting the lack of psychological care for survivors, bureaucratic hurdles to the quick collection of forensic evidence, a lack of specialised medical equipment in hospitals, and societal attitudes that cast blame on victims.

Divya concluded that systemic change is urgently required at every stage, to combat the ‘structural and institutional inertia’ that has permeated through the system

Divya’s talk was followed by an animated discussion, which broached topics such as the need for greater gender sensitisation, including in schools, public vs. private hospital responsibility to survivors, and responses to rape in other countries.

Thank you for an engaging and informative talk, Divya, it’s been great having you on board!

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