Crime and control
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Sentimental harangues are no answer. Fast-track courts are a useful first step to address rape
Responding to the brutal rape of a 23-year-old woman in the national capital, a case that has shaken Parliament and the nation, the Delhi High Court has announced five fast-track courts to address such incidents in the city. This case is only one of the many that go unnoticed and unpunished across the nation. Yet the decision to allocate more legal resources is certainly reassuring.
This is a far more useful response than the emotional calls for castration and killing that have followed the revelation of the crime. Treating it on par with attempt to murder, as has been suggested, may assuage the feelings of lawmakers, but is not especially likely to avert further such incidents. Studies have underlined that it is not the severity of punishment, but its certainty, that deters criminals. A tendency to report crimes, which raises the expectation of punishment, also deters crime. By those criteria, rape is miserably under-reported, the judicial process is tardy and the chances of conviction slender. Apart from the "stigma" that encourages silence, the investigative system also tends to treat sexual assault with insensitivity, even misogyny. Delay can dilute the case, and the rounds of questioning and examination can make an already shocked and fearful victim feel abused all over again. As Adrienne Rich writes in a moving poem about a rape victim confronting the officer-interrogator — she is "guilty of the crime of being forced".