NEW DELHI: A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has revealed that disabled women and girls who have survived sexual violence face obstacles in getting access to legal aid. “Since 2013, India has made important legal reforms on sexual violence, but women and girls with disabilities still lack equal access to justice,” said the report’s co-author, Nidhi Goyal.
The report, titled ‘Invisible victims of sexual violence: Access to justice for women and girls with disabilities in India’, highlights the hurdles and challenges the women face. According to the report, some of the biggest challenges are reporting abuse to the police, medical care, investigation of complaints filed, dealing with the court procedures and obtaining compensation.
The report says that even in cases of extreme violence, trauma and economic hardship (including due to childbirth following rape), women and girls with disabilities had difficulties in securing compensation.
The rights watchdog cited 17 cases of rape and gang rape from eight states—Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and West Bengal—for the study, in which the victims included eight girls and nine women with various disabilities. “Around 111 people were interviewed, including victims of sexual violence, family members, lawyers, officials from mental health institutions and shelter facilities, police, government officials, disability rights activists and special educators”, the report said.
The report revealed that Indian women with physical disabilities may find it more difficult to escape from violent situations. “Those who are deaf may not be able to call for help or easily communicate abuse. Women and girls with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities may not know that non-consensual sexual acts are a crime and should be reported. Stigma related to their sexuality and disability compounds these challenges,” the report stated.
Access to sign-language interpretation, the presence of someone to facilitate communication, use of simple language and the option to file reports in Braille are needed to improve interaction with the police and the judicial process for women and girls with disabilities, HRW observed in the report.
Challenges faced by disabled victims
Some of the biggest challenges are reporting abuse to the police, medical care, investigation of complaints, dealing with the court procedures and obtaining compensation
Even in cases of extreme violence, women and girls with disabilities had difficulties in securing compensation