Mrinal Satish, Associate Professor, National Law University, Delhi …examined all rape cases decided by all High Courts and the Supreme Court over the last twenty five years.
Let me share some bits from: Chastity, Virginity, Marriageability, and Rape Sentencing
The crucial question is: how do courts determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed on an offender?
What makes rape sentencing different from sentencing for other crimes?
In these imaginations, rape is not a crime against a woman’s sexual autonomy or bodily integrity, but an irreparable loss to her chastity, “modesty,” and social standing. A woman who has already “lost” her chastity and modesty by having sexual relations before or outside of marriage, is not considered to have suffered too much harm; and the perpetrator is therefore not required to be punished too severely.
Unlike laws of various other countries, Indian law does not require the prosecution to prove that the offender knew that the woman had not consented, or intended to rape the woman. The woman’s testimony that she had not consented to intercourse is sufficient. In fact, the Supreme Court has consistently held that conviction can be based solely on the testimony of the woman, and there is no need for any other corroborating evidence. However, the court has to be satisfied that the woman’s testimony is reliable, and she is in fact stating the truth. It is in the determination of the reliability of the victim’s testimony that stereotypes enter rape adjudication.
An important piece of evidence in rape cases is the report of the medical examination of the rape victim.
Another factor related to virginity is the perceived loss experienced by an unmarried victim, in terms of her marriageability. The Supreme Court has in a number of cases noted how rape adversely affects the chances of a woman finding a suitable groom. In this context, the Court has even held that the marital status of the woman can be a relevant factor in rape sentencing. It is not surprising then that offenders who raped unmarried (and virginal) women got higher sentences in contrast to men who raped married women. Further, courts tend to impose lower sentences when a victim who was unmarried when the offence was committed, gets married during the trial. Since the rape did not impact the victim’s ability to get married, the harm caused by the offence is discounted. An egregious example of this approach is the Supreme Court’s decision in Baldev Singh v. State of Punjab (2011), another gang rape case that got a lot of media attention. One of the reasons that the Court gave for reducing the sentence in this case was that the victim was now married.
2. I found a marked decrease in sentences in cases where no injuries were present on the woman’s body. Hence, unfortunately, the notion that a woman should physically resist rape makes its way into rape sentencing.
3. …courts consider acquaintance rape to be less traumatic than rape by a stranger. Offenders who were in a romantic relationship with the women they raped got lower sentences, compared to their counterparts who raped women they did not know. In cases of statutory rape where the under-aged girl had consented to intercourse, courts consistently imposed lower sentences on the offenders, based on the understanding that the young woman had otherwise “contributed” to the offence.