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December 13, 2018

Name, identity of rape, sexual assault victims, including dead victims, should not be disclosed: SC


rape

On December 11, the Supreme Court ruled that the name and identity of victims of rape and sexual assault, including those who have died, should not be disclosed "even in a remote manner" to "arouse public opinion and sentiment" as these issues need to be dealt with sensitively.

The court said, "No person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified and which should make her identity known to the public at large."

The court noted that it was unfortunate that instead of empathizing with the victims, society treats them as "untouchable". It said, "A victim of rape is treated like a 'pariah' and ostracised from society. Many times, even her family refuses to accept her back into their fold. The harsh reality is that many times cases of rape do not even get reported because of the false notions of so called 'honour' which the family of the victim wants to uphold."

The court further added that "Police or forensic authorities cannot disclose the names of rape victims either, even with the parents' consent Such an action will need the court's permission. Also, FIRs of sexual assault cases, especially those involving minors, should not be placed on the public domain. The police officials should keep all the documents in which the name of the victim is disclosed, as far as possible, in a sealed cover and replace these documents by identical documents in which the name of the victim is removed in all records which may be scrutinised in the public domain."

The court then said that media should be cautious not to "sensationalise" such cases and though they have an obligation to report such matters, they are also "duty bound" not to disclose the identity of such victims, including minors, and ruled that rape survivors cannot be interviewed unless they personally approach the news agency concerned.

The court added, "In the case of dead victims, we have to deal with another factor. We have to deal with the important issue that even the dead have their own dignity. They cannot be denied dignity only because they are dead." Also, the court instructed forensic lab authorities to protect the identity of victims by submitting their reports to the court in a sealed cover.

Regarding protest, the court ruled that "We are of the view that the disclosure of the name of the child to make the child a symbol of protest cannot normally be treated to be in the interest of the child... If a campaign has to be started to protect the rights of the victim and mobilise public opinion, it can be done so without disclosing her identity."

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