International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women
November 25, 2019, India International Centre, New Delhi
#DNAfightsRape – OVERVIEW
DNA evidence is world’s best crime fighting technology. We learnt about the power of DNA from leading subject matter experts in building quality conviction in heinous crimes and its proven success in many countries across the world. It is the most scientific and conclusive evidence when it comes to conviction in sexual assault and rape cases.
In 95% or more cases, where the survivor knows the perpetrator, the DNA profile of the accused when matched with the DNA test from the scene of crime, is certain to convict the rapist. It is imperative therefore, for people to know, that the survivor is the scene of crime and the evidence! The evidence must not be washed away and destroyed. Cleaning it off, means loss of crucial evidence, so we must save it. Effectively, it is not only the law enforcement and forensics who are the first line responders in a crime scene, the common man has a strong role to play, he/she is a ‘first line responder’, and as much critical to the success of criminal investigation.
This is just the beginning, as people become more aware of their part in expediting the criminal justice system, it is bound to reduce overdependence on ocular evidence in court, putting the ‘fear of law’ in the minds of the perpetrator. This should help deter the incidence of rape… a burning issue today.
With that idea, we have brought together forces, the UN Women, AIIMS and Delhi Police, who stand to endorse the citizen awareness move and spread the word –
“DO NOT WASH, DO NOT CLEAN, DO NOT DISTURB”
#DNAFightsRape SAVE THE EVIDENCE
#DNAFightsRape – THE BEGINNING
In India, it is no secret that crimes against women are a significant societal problem. Violent rape incidents fill the news and preventing them has been a problem for ages. However, authorities have not adopted modern crime-fighting methods to address this burning issue. India is one of the last few developing countries in the world to have not fully embraced the internationally accepted forensic DNA technology in its criminal justice system.
This problem gets further aggravated by the lack of awareness among survivors and the support groups as how they act in the initial few hours after the incident is critical. Justice in cases of sexual assault has long been denied due to lack of evidence. In most cases, she usually doesn’t report to the medical trauma centre or the police directly. It is usually after taking a shower/cleaning up or maybe waiting a few days that she reports the crime, damaging evidence that can help put the culprit behind the bar. The hours following the trauma of rape are most critical for the survivor to muster up courage and come forward for their own sake and for others who could be potential target of the same offender in the future.
Following two years of efforts to draw the government’s attention to step up the use of DNA forensics in criminal investigations, we engaged key influencers from across groups in policy, law enforcement, judiciary, legal, forensics and civil society/non-profit in an initiative ‘Where’s the DNA?’ that was key in laying the ground for awareness among stakeholders. We are now launching a citizen awareness drive to highlight the role DNA can play in not just getting justice for the survivor but also instilling fear in the minds of perpetrators of heinous crimes like rape.
After reaching out to the authorities, which was the first and an important step, we are now reaching out to the masses (public, youth, parents) to gain momentum and further increase awareness and support for the cause. Through this drive, we will be talking to the people, who can play a critical role in helping a survivor in her fight for justice by ensuring proper protection and collection of DNA evidence.
#DNAFightsRape – KEY INSIGHTS
In the US we have already seen a movement called ‘I Am Evidence’ — with more than 225,000 untested rape kits found shelved and untested in police stations there, survivors find themselves waiting for justice decades after an attack that they spend lifetimes trying not to think about.
With India, the problem is much graver. As per the NCRB, more than 34,600 rapes were registered in 2015. In addition to the low DNA collection rate for violent and sexual crimes in India, significant backlogs exist in the crime labs which further aggravates the problem. Of the cases that go to DNA labs each year, less than half are processed, and 20% of lab reports do not hold up in court due to contaminated or improperly collected evidence1. Without the ability to test for DNA evidence from bodily crimes quickly, police are unable to confirm a suspect’s involvement and courts are unable to use the DNA to arrive at a conviction.
Unlike in the West, the level of public awareness on the subject in India has been low. Most people do not understand the importance of DNA evidence and its capability in solving crime. While there have been several advancements in the field, we are a long way from using this technology meaningfully in the pursuit of justice for sexual assault survivors.
|THE PROBLEM Lack of Knowledge: The masses do not understand the power of DNA and how it can enable justice. They are unaware about how it assists in positively identifying perpetrators, particularly in cases of sexual assault and rape. Societal Barriers: Rape/sexual assault is associated with shame, guilt, and fear. The survivor is often blamed for it or advised to forget the whole thing and pretend that nothing ever happen to safeguard her and her family’s reputation in the society. Additionally, in all rape cases reported, 95% of the time, the survivor knows the offender. Cultural factors like shame and stigma associated with rape in the Indian society along with the fear of long drawn court battles further discourage them to pursue justice. It has become clear that the problem is not identification of suspects, it was about encouraging women to report the crime backed by irrefutable scientific evidence for speedy justice. Lack of Faith in the System: People don’t have confidence in the system. According to NCRB data, reported cases of crime against women in India increased 83% from 185,312 in 2007 to 338,954 in 2016. Moreover, India’s latest compilation of crime statistics for the year 2016 suggests that the conviction rate for rapes is 25% i.e., only one in every four rape cases that are reported result in conviction. Barring a few states, forensic labs in most do not have the capacity to handle the volume of cases resulting in high pendency. As of December 2017, there were more than 12,000 DNA samples from sexual assault cases waiting in national forensic science labs.|
#DNAFightsRape – THE OBJECTIVE
In India, a rape survivor reporting a case is a rare situation. Keeping this in mind, we need to look at enabling a behavioural change. We need to start educating the masses on the importance of DNA evidence and how it can be instrumental in ensuring justice. For this, we need to also help build their trust in the system — we need to change the perception that “The system is not on our side”.
Given this context, this citizen awareness drive will talk to the masses with the mission to educate and increase awareness on:
- DNA evidence is conclusive and will help deliver swift justice.
- Preserve the DNA, no matter what.
- Report the crime on time (preferably, within 24 hours).
- DNA casework expansion to build a safer society for women and children.
- Create public demand for DNA casework.
- Mobilising FIRs in genuine cases of rape & sexual violence.
- Expediting the criminal justice system.
- Reduce backlogs in DNA testing & case pendency in courts.
From a social behavioural change perspective, we need to get:
- The rape survivor to realise that she needs to save evidence and report the crime in time to ensure proper DNA evidence collection by the medical examiner.
- Support groups of survivors to counsel and guide them on importance of timely reporting and preservation of evidence.
To achieve this, we need to:
- Raise awareness on the importance of immediate reporting and preserving of bodily evidence.
- Demand action for better quantity and quality of DNA testing for rightful conviction or exoneration.
- Demand action and funding by the government to improve DNA forensic infrastructure across India.
#DNAFightsRape – KEY STAKEHOLDERS
- Public Figures: A public figure’s role is to understand and endorse the importance of DNA evidence to solve crime and expedite justice to create a safer society. They need to educate people on the importance of ‘Saving DNA evidence’ and must help rebuild public faith in the system. The aim is to bring about a change in society and drive public sentiment to preserve evidence and report crime.
- Public/ Masses (youth/parents): Public opinion can have a strong effect on how government policies are made and implemented. Their role is to get elected representatives and leaders to address this problem and hold them accountable for their decisions. An educated and aware public can compel the government to act.
- Media: Media plays a strong role in shaping public opinion. It is the most effective mode of communication to enable people to understand the merits of DNA evidence in solving heinous crimes. However, to hold authorities accountable, the press needs to equip itself with a better understanding of forensic DNA technology and how it works. They need to be aware of crime scene protocols, chain of custody and testing standards to be able to keep the entire law machinery in check.
- Law Enforcement/Medical Examiners: The first line responders are the investigation officers (IOs) and they play a major role in making or breaking a case. They are the first individuals who are privy to what may have occurred at the crime scene. They not only collect, but also preserve DNA evidence and deliver it securely to a forensic science lab. Their role is to ensure proper standards in collection and handling of sensitive biological samples that contain DNA leading to accurate results. Additionally, survivors have constantly highlighted that going through a medical examination after rape feels like a second round of assault. Therefore, law enforcement officials and medical examiners need to be more sensitive to the survivor’s condition and state of mind when gathering evidence and recording their statements.
- Government: The Government needs to make the required policy-level changes and ensure implementation of directives in letter and spirit. Their role is to strengthen the law enforcement and forensic infrastructure with the right equipment, manpower and training. It is also the government’s duty to help spread awareness about how advanced forensic technologies like DNA are being used to fight crime and create safer communities.