Understanding the Nature of Sexual Assault Cases in Nepal Through a Forensic Lens
Sexual assaults and drug facilitated sexual assaults (DFSA) are becoming a serious problem in Nepal. Sexual assaults on vulnerable people such as the children, elderly and people with disability are becoming more common as evident from frequent crime reports published in Nepali newspapers. The increasing cases of sexual assaults in the country and the public outcry over mishandling of some high-profile cases such as the Nirmala rape case highlight the urgent need to focus our efforts on a number of areas, including: (i) capacity building on crime scene examination and forensic analysis of sexual assault cases (ii) moral and sexual education, and public awareness programmes in schools, and (iii) revised policy and practice in sexual assaults (such as on safeguarding, reporting and victim support). Most sexual assault and rape cases do not even come to light because victims are often ignored or not taken seriously by law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, society and even their own family. Therefore, further work is also needed in changing public perception and attitude in society as well as changing behaviour among law enforcement agencies such as police and judiciary.
In light of these policy and practice gaps in handling of sexual assault cases, we have been working collaboratively for the last few years (since 2016) in a number of areas: running various events to increase awareness (e.g. TV programme, talk programme, newspaper articles and interviews, extra-curricular activities through UNESCO schools collaboration council); organising capacity building activities (e.g. two week training for forensic scientists in Nepal); and organising workshops to bring together a variety of stakeholders (e.g. education authorities, police forces, forensic scientists, medical practitioners, layers, judges and crime scene officers). In the proposed presentation, we plan to share our key insights, experience and lessons learnt from these activities and highlight the need to expand the collaboration effectively among the key stakeholders due to the complex nature of sexual assault cases. We also pinpoint some specific recommendation drawing from our observation and experience. First, there is an urgent need to modernise Nepal’s criminal justice system with the top-most priority of protecting victims of such assaults. Second, increasing concerns over the handling of sexual assault cases also warrant an evidence-based scientific investigation of such cases. Therefore, capacity building in ‘crime scene to court’ and continual professional development are required. Third, there is also a need for effective implementation of sex education in school curriculum. This will ensure that children and later adults will know how to recognise and react when they suspect sexual assault happening to them or someone close to them. This can eventually decrease number of such crimes happening. Finally, one stop approach where victims can report such cases and get emotional/psychological, medical and legal support is needed. In that regard, we suggest opening Nepal’s first Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Kathmandu.