Sex Workers’ Rape Allegations Can’t Be Ignored Because Of Their Profession, Says SC
It took 20 years for a rape survivor to get justice, but finally, the Supreme Court has stated the obvious — even if the prosecutrix is a sex worker, or a woman of ‘easy virtue,’ she has the right to refuse sex.
The landmark ruling overturned a High Court judgment that acquitted four men accused of gang rape in 1997. On Tuesday, October 30, a bench comprising Justice R Banumathi and Justice Indira Banerjee held that “even if the allegations of the accused that the woman is of immoral character are taken to be correct, the same does not give any right to the accused persons to commit rape on her against her consent.”
If you’re confused about why this ruling was necessary in the first place, here’s the timeline of what actually happened. When the case was initially brought to a trial court in Delhi, the court sentenced the accused to 10 years imprisonment. However, their appeal reached the High Court in 2009, where the men submitted a complaint against the prosecutrix on the basis of her occupation and character, i.e. that she was a sex worker and her word could not be trusted. Claiming that they were falsely implicated, the High Court overturned the initial sentencing and the men were acquitted. The court went so far as to suggest that the three policemen who had filed the case on behalf of the rape victim should be prosecuted for falsely implicating the accused.
It’s difficult to believe that these ideas of ‘virtue’ and honor that are so often equated with a woman’s worth and sexual freedom, were upheld by a court of law. But the Supreme Court’s ruling recognizes that a woman has the right to refuse sex, and seek redressal, regardless of her sexual history, occupation, or so-called virtue. The bench maintained the trial court’s initial sentence of 10 years imprisonment, observing that as long as the prosecutrix’s testimony ‘inspires confidence,’ a conviction can (and must) be sustained.
The ruling, as many people have pointed out, is historic. It makes clear that the rights of sex workers are no less than any other citizen of this country. But it’s also jarring that, in 2018, this still needed to be established. The Supreme Court’s progressive statements are laced with morality and judgement. That a woman’s testimony must ‘inspire confidence,’ has a worryingly vague ring to it, especially when women’s testimonies are often deemed unsubstantial based on subjective judgement by courts. A woman’s ‘easy virtue’ or ability to convincingly prove herself trustworthy in a courtroom cannot be the basis of any kind of ruling. So while we celebrate the judgement, a step forward for a judicial system that failed the victim in 2009, we need to also unpack the dangerous rhetoric that we’re still using — and what it might mean for other victims in the future.