All India institute of medical science to develop a new facility in which all treatments, testing and care for sexual abuse survivors such as physical examinations, injuries, forensic tests, DNA profiling, and psychological and psychiatric care will be provided under one roof.
The proposal, by AIIMS, for a National One-Stop Sexual Assault Examination, Care and Research Centre has “in-principle” approval from the Union ministry of women and child development and is now with the Union ministry of health and family welfare for review, said the people cited above.
Six rapes and multiple molestations are reported in Delhi every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2016.
“The women need a physical examination and psychiatric evaluation and counselling,” said Dr Sudhir Gupta, head of the department of forensic medicine, AIIMS, adding that the centre would be a way to reduce some of the burden on women who have been victims of heinous crimes.
The centre’s establishment will employ 10 doctors, two scientists for the DNA lab, six lab technicians, eight women nurses, and two data entry operators.
It will be located in the forensic department of the hospital and will have a separate 24×7 reception and examination room, according to the proposal details accessed by local news.
Once it is ready, the AIIMS centre will also take on the role of a nodal agency for setting up similar units in other parts of the country, Gupta said.
The Delhi Police welcomed the initiative and said such a facility is the need of the hour.
“We welcome such initiatives. Forensic evidence is crucial, and getting forensic reports soon would help in speedy investigations in cases of crime against women and providing justice to the complainants. Maximum attention is paid to solve the incidents of rape and other crimes against women. In such cases, about 63% of the accused are arrested within the first week,” said Anil Kumar, additional public relations officer, Delhi Police.
To aid the collection of forensic samples, the centre will have high-end technological equipment to identify the faintest of marks and traces of bodily fluids and the microbiology lab and the DNA lab will be upgraded to provide diagnostic results within 48 hours, the proposal said.
“The results for the vaginal swabs and semen samples can be analysed within 30 minutes, the rest can be provided within two days. Currently, 80-90% samples do not yield viable results because of the samples are not collected and sealed properly, or because they are stored at an unsuitable temperature till they reach the city’s only Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Rohini,” said Dr Abhishek Yadav, assistant professor in the forensics department of AIIMS.
“Even when stored correctly, the quality of any biological sample deteriorates with time as it often takes months for the FSL to analyse the samples,” he added.
The doctors and nurses will also be trained in the legal protocols of handling forensic samples. “There is very little knowledge among staff of the protocols that have to be followed. Very often, the accused takes the benefit of loopholes like a chain of custody not being maintained, or samples not being properly sealed,” said Gupta.
A 2016 survey in nine government hospitals and 25 dispensaries in Delhi found that 60% of doctors and a little more than 50% of nurses were not aware of the protocols.
“The so-called one-stop centres in government hospitals are just a room in the existing gynaecological emergency. There are no dedicated staffs for forensics, so the survivors and the forensic case often don’t get priority,” Gupta said.
“Hospitals in cities have to provide comprehensive physical and mental care and ensure the forensic case is foolproof. Most hospitals, however, just refer the woman to the OPD (out-patient department) and she has to spend days getting all the services she needs,” said Dr Yadav.
The centre will also have a facility for bathing and fresh clothes will be provided to survivors. According to the 2016 survey, more than 72% of doctors and nurses said the lack of private screening space was a major hurdle in examining victims of violence.
“It is always a good effort to improve the functioning of the one-stop centres. Ensuring timely MLC [medico-legal case] reports will assist the survivors tremendously,” said Swati Maliwal, chairperson of the Delhi commission for women (DWC).