Many Bhutanese tend to believe that we live in a promiscuous society. Going by the increasing number of reports, we are not.
There are some weaknesses in our that needs to be fixed urgently.
While sex is a casual topic; it is a problem when it is forced upon somebody. It is worse when minors are involved. Sexual assaults can have multiple implications in a person’s life. It not only affects the physical and mental health of the victims, but also tarnishes their reputation forever. In a close knit-society like ours, this is a serious problem. The effects are severe when the victim is a minor. The consequences last for a lifetime and it is detrimental to their development.
We have always boasted of having laws in place to address sexual offences, but just having the laws in place is not enough. All relevant agencies, including investigating and prosecuting agencies, the judiciary and the society as a whole should take sexual offences seriously. Perpetrators of sexual offences should pay for the crime, one way or the other. This could serve as deterrence to others.
This could be done through penalising perpetrators, giving them the maximum penalty for violating state rights and making them pay a huge compensation for violating others’ rights.
Recently, the Thimphu dzongkhag court did not mention compensation while rendering judgement to a man convicted of raping a 15-year-old several times and attempting to rape an 11-year-old. The man took advantage of the girls’ vulnerability.
The High Court cited three reasons for denying compensation. It stated that rape victims did not receive compensation until now when there are many incidences where the Supreme Court ordered compensations.
It also stated the law doesn’t specify the compensation amount. While the justification is partially true, Section 36 and 37 of the Penal Code specifies that defendants should pay appropriate damages or reparation for any loss, injury or deterioration caused to the victims. Section 202 states that a victim of rape shall be entitled to compensation.
There is no lacuna in the law. Courts, as the interpreter of the law, should make defendants pay the amount they deemed appropriate for the trauma the victims suffered and deter other sexual perpetrators.
No amount can compensate the trauma and the societal pressure victims go through, but for many, it could make a difference. It’s worrying when courts rule that the defendant’s conviction should suffice the compensation.
The court reasoning is indicative that our courts are either confused between state rights and individual rights or they do not take sexual offences seriously. This is not the first time a sexual offence has been taken lightly.
Prosecuting agency had dropped many child molestation cases in the past for lack of adequate and credible evidences. It is not surprising, therefore, to see or hear people supposed to protect victims blame them.
There is injustice and outright deprivation of rights when the victims are denied compensation. Imprisonment is the sanction by the state for violating state laws. Compensation is civil rights of an individual, which cannot be abridged. State rights or individual rights are neither complementary nor it is jurisprudence.
While it is everyone’s responsibility to address sexual assault issues, strong judicial action could have a far-reaching impact.