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Delhi gangrape: NYPD and London might offer some solutions

To prevent cases of rape there is a need to view it as a crime in isolation from the emotional rhetoric that surrounds it.

Representational image of Delhi police. AFP

18 Dec 16:21 pm IST

     

By Kartikeya Tripathi

Indian laws against rape are amongst some of the toughest in the world. Owing to regular interpretation of Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the victim's word is now considered substantive proof to convict the accused and send him to jail for a minimum of seven years. In fact, in one case even the lack of conclusive medical evidence to show that a woman was raped did not prevent the Supreme Court from ordering a jail sentence for the accused.

In a deeply conservative society, rape is an emotional subject which perhaps explains why the judiciary has been so recipient to making it easy to secure convictions. However, this approach as a crime prevention strategy has little value as it is reactive. It comes into play after a crime has already been committed.

Research has shown that though we may like to believe that harsh sentences act as deterrents to future criminals, there is little evidence in favour of this belief. Most criminals either truly believe that they will get away with the crime, or are unable to think through the consequences of crime they are about to commit.

The crime prevention premise on which First World criminal justice systems (which includes police, prosecutors, judges) now work is that criminals are deterred by their proximal conditions, and not the prospect of a distant punishment. Thus incidents of sexual harassment, and drug dealing in public toilets in London dropped drastically with the introduction of better lighting, and signs warning that plainclothes policemen often used those facilities.

Similarly, to prevent cases of rape there is a need to view it as a crime in isolation from the emotional rhetoric that surrounds it. The most influential crime prevention philosophy of the last decade stated that a crime takes place when there is presence of a likely target (i.e. victim), and the absence of a capable guardian (examples : policeman, guard, a responsible elder, or even a....
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