HRW report lists cases of rape victims being put through finger-test

Traumatic medical examinations for child sexual abuse victims should be replaced with a more sensitive universal protocol developed in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines, a report released by Human Rights Watch said.

In the four cases documented in the 'Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India' report, doctors used the "finger test" as part of examination of girl rape victims. Many doctors do not have the skills to perform such medical examinations and the absence of guidelines for treatment of sexual abuse victims can lead to further trauma.

"It is hard enough for sexually abused child or their relatives to come forward and seek help, but instead of handling cases with sensitivity Indian authorities often demean and re-traumatise them," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.

The report recommends that the government implement a protocol for all public health facilities developed according to the WHO guidelines and that doctors and medical staff should be trained to respond to cases of sexual abuse in a sensitive manner, including minimally invasive examinations.

A standard part of the examination for female rape victims in India is the "two-finger test" to check the size and state of hymen and vagina for signs of sexual intercourse and violence. But forensic experts say the test has no scientific value and the Ministry of Women and Child Development recently recommended it be abolished as it heightens the trauma of victims.

In one case detailed in the report, a 15-year-old girl, forced to work as a maid, claimed she was raped by her boss. She was given a "two-finger" test after she escaped from her abuser and, on the basis of this test, the doctor stated that the girl had not been raped. Police have now refused to probe her complaint.

In rape cases, corroboration by forensic evidence is not mandatory where prosecution can secure a conviction based on the victim's testimony, but medico-legal reports can often play an important role in whether or not the police and judiciary believe the claims.Kira Spucys-Tahar

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