Disclosing rape victim’s identity is punishable

6 Nov 2007, 0008 hrs IST,Dhananjay Mahapatra,TNN

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has named a rape victim 11 times in a recent judgment, forgetting the self-imposed code put in place through its rulings in 2003 and 2006. Reversing a Rajasthan HC order acquitting a rape accused, the SC ordered the convict to undergo seven years’ rigorous imprisonment instead of 10 years awarded by the trial court.

Both the 2003 and 2006 judgments, written on behalf of the benches by Justice Arijit Pasayat, had an identical paragraph exhorting trial courts, HCs and the Supreme Court not to mention names of rape victims in their judgments, given the ignominy they face in a conservative society like India.

Section 228-A of the Indian Penal Code makes disclosure of identity of a victim in sexual assault cases a punishable offence, which deters the media from making public the name of the rape victim.

However, Justice Pasayat recognised that the restriction did not bar the media from publishing names of the victims while publishing the judgments of high courts or the apex court. So, in both the judgments, he had said, “Keeping in view the objective of preventing social victimisation or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offence for which section 228-A has been enacted, it would be appropriate that in the judgments, be it of this court, high courts or lower courts, the name of the victim should not be indicated.”

Section 228-A of Indian Penal Code is in sync with laws abroad, such as UK’s Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 1976 which guarantees anonymity to women who complain of rape. These enactments are meant to encourage rape victims to complain against assaulters without having to facing public glare and the resulting humiliation.

The US, however, is an exception. The Supreme Court there has consistently struck down state laws which prohibit the media from revealing the name of the victim of sexual abuse. However, media organisations there have scrupulously observed a self-imposed code of not publishing the name of the rape victim.

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