DMPQ-Explain why punitive responses to sexual violence need a rethink.

The death penalty is the last phase of a criminal trial while rape survivors face serious obstacles much earlier, especially at the time of registration of the complaint. The most severe gaps in the justice delivery system are related to reporting a police complaint. The focus of the criminal justice system, therefore, needs to shift from sentencing and punishment to the stages of reporting, investigation and victim-support mechanisms.

Second, harsh penalties often have the consequence of reducing the rate of conviction for the offence. For instance, a study by one of us published in the Indian Law Review based on rape judgments in Delhi shows a lower rate of conviction after the removal of judicial discretion in 2013. Introducing harsher penalties does not remove systemic prejudices from the minds of judges and the police, who might refuse to register complaints, or acquit offenders in cases they do not consider as “serious” enough to warrant a mandatory minimum.

Third, studies on child sexual abuse have shown that in the few cases of convictions, the minimum sentence was the norm and the award of the maximum punishment was an exception. Moreover, crime data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that in 93.6 per cent of these cases, the perpetrators were known to the victims. Introducing capital punishment would deter complainants from registering complaints. The Shakti Bill ignores crucial empirical evidence on these cases.

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