How do we stop these copycat rapists?
We are horrified and outraged that only days after the horrendous gang rape of a woman in Noakhali, which the perpetrators filmed and later released the video on social media, sparking nationwide protests, two more incidents of eerily similar nature have taken place, and again in the same district.
On October 9, a pregnant woman was raped in Senbag (Noakhali) when her husband, a microbus driver, had gone out on duty. The main accused is the brother of the microbus owner and he, along with 10-12 of his cohorts, went to the woman's home, raped her while his friends videotaped the incident, threatening to expose her on social media if she told anyone. When she went to the Upazila Parishad chairman, he said he would help get her justice. Later when reporters asked him, he said he had told her to seek help from the police. Finally, after the rape survivor filed a case, the police on Wednesday arrested four of the five accused in the case though the main accused was missing at the time.
The second incident occurred in Chatkhil (Noakhali), in which a woman whose husband works overseas was raped at gunpoint by a man who had links with the local Jubo League unit. The accused was arrested, and according to police, there are several cases against this man related to various crimes.
The implications of these rapes are frightening. Despite the vociferous protests against the first Noakhali rape (and other rapes), despite the government reacting so swiftly and announcing the death penalty for all rapes, we find that copycat rapes have occurred in the same district. The idea of videotaping the rape and releasing the clip on social media has become a new dimension of terror adding to the trauma, and nothing—not even the fear of a death sentence—is deterring it.
So what will deter these rapists? As this paper, echoing the voices of rights activists, has harped on—the first step is to end the culture of impunity of rapists through stern actions from the government. No one linked in any way to the ruling party or the administration should be shielded if they commit a crime, with a special emphasis on a crime like rape. This includes the police, local administration, local political leaders or influential individuals of the community. We are relieved that in the two cases mentioned, the police have acted swiftly and arrested some of the rapists. We hope the main accused will also be apprehended with due diligence.
But the arrest of rapists is just one step in the fight against sexual violence. The investigations must be thorough, fair and not be marred by any influence or money. The victims must be treated with extreme compassion and dignity by the legal system and the medical team that treats them and gathers evidence of rape. Protection of the victims and witnesses must be ensured. The rapists must be punished according to law and the news of their punishment should be made public. Reforms in laws about sexual violence must be initiated. While society is to be blamed for its role in shaming the rape victims instead of the rapists, the government must send out a strong message that rapists and criminals will be dealt with severely regardless of their affiliation with the ruling party and other influential groups.