The one-year statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault should be lifted. However, this is not enough to stem the tide of rape cases. Political intervention to change patriarchal beliefs at the local level is also needed, in addition to tougher laws.
The #MeToo movement in Nepal has been revived thanks to the courage of a single girl who spoke out about the horrific incidents she faced as a minor. Her bravery encouraged other sexual assault survivors to tell their stories, both publicly and quietly. Above all, her tenacity exposed the flaws in our justice system and sparked countless conversations about rape culture and sexual assault.
In Nepal, rape cases have increased in recent years. Nepal police say there were 6,259 cases of rape and attempted rape last year, up from 146, the tally recorded 25 years ago. Only 1,260 of the 6,259 perpetrators have been convicted, leaving the rest without justice. These are only the cases that have been reported; many others are not reported.
Unfortunately, in Nepal, the ability of the survivor to file a complaint against the abuser is limited. According to the National Penal Code Act 2017, Chapter 18, Section 229(2), the statute of limitations, a rape case must be filed within one year of the event if the survivor is an adult, and within one year of the event. year following the survivor’s return. 18 if the survivor is a minor. This restriction hampers survivors’ access to justice and allows many cases to be dismissed due to technical errors.
Given this, the ongoing protest calling for the removal of the statute of limitations is indeed a necessary demand. It should be waived. However, the protest should not focus only on the lifting of the statute of limitations since this is a law that is binding after the incident occurs or in the pursuit of justice. This, however, is insufficient to combat the rape culture that has seeped into our thoughts, words and actions.
Change the culture
The extent of the rape culture that exists in our society is evident in social media comments on a recent case – “Why did she wait eight years?” “Maybe she provoked him to win the pageant,” and a host of other remarks were made. Instead of focusing on the criminals, the survivor’s clothing, sobriety, and sexuality are questioned. Solutions should focus on potential perpetrators and bystanders to get to the root of the problem.
First, language and lyrics that blame victims or survivors, objectify women, and justify sexual harassment must end. The objectification of women in the mass media normalizes rape, affirming beliefs such as “Her dress is a reason she was raped”, “Women’s no also means yes”, and “I know you want it “. These lines may look funny, but they will shape our reality. There is a difference between saying “She was raped” and “He raped her”. Blame shifts from the victim or survivor to the perpetrator.
A proven method of reducing the possibility of rape, after removing the statute of limitations, is to change the way sex education is taught in schools. In Nepal, sex education is taught in an uncomfortable environment where even conversations with the opposite sex are restricted. This needs to be completely modernized, with updated consent classes and sex education curricula starting with our youngest students. For young people, it can be a program involving the naming of body parts and the idea that some of them are private. For older children, lessons may include contraceptives, disease prevention, LGBTQ relationships, gender identity, and consent.
Another idea is to teach young teenagers to respect women and to intervene in case of aggression. This has been accomplished in Kenya through the “Your Moment of Truth” program. Before class, 63.1% of boys in a study thought a woman wearing a “sexy” dress invited them to have sex with her, and 58.5% thought a woman saying “no” to sex meant “maybe”. This rose to 14.5% and 22.8%, respectively, after the price. Such courses, if contextualized for Nepal, will help to raise awareness and combat cases of sexual assault.
After the removal of the statute of limitations, the aforementioned changes must be made nationwide to be effective. The government can and should make these types of courses compulsory for all levels. Organizing such short term courses at schools, government offices or community levels will help educate the public.
Additionally, the government must take drastic measures to change the criminal justice system’s response to such offences. Fast-track courts are needed to expedite justice for survivors. Additionally, penalties for rape should be increased if necessary, with multiple life sentences. While making the case for prison reform is difficult, if all else fails, it can have a chilling effect on would-be perpetrators.
As a society, we have always looked for ways to find fault on the side of the survivor, especially in cases of rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence. Unless the solutions are geared towards addressing this patriarchal mindset and power imbalance, nothing will change. Therefore, behavioral and policy interventions are needed in addition to tougher laws with no statute of limitations to eradicate the rape culture that has ingrained itself in our way of thinking and speaking.