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India's Supreme Court rules sex workers have right to refuse services

Ruling overturned 2009 judgment acquitting four people in gang rape case as victim was ‘a woman of bad character who indulged in prostitution’

Emma Snaith
Sunday 04 November 2018 19:29 GMT
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India has established its first national sex offenders’ registry in a bid to curb the country’s rape epidemic
India has established its first national sex offenders’ registry in a bid to curb the country’s rape epidemic (AFP/Getty)

India’s Supreme Court has ruled that sex-workers have a right to refuse their services and seek redress when forced to work against their will.

“Even assuming that the woman was of easy virtue, she has a right to refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone,” the court said.

The ruling came as the court overturned a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment that acquitted four people accused in a 1997 gang rape case.

The four defendants were previously freed on the grounds the victim was “a woman of bad character who indulged in prostitution”.

The Supreme Court restored the trial court’s conviction in the case and ordered that the four people accused must surrender within four weeks to serve the rest of their 10-year sentence.

Supreme justices R Banumathi and Indria Banerjee said: “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.”

They also said if there was evidence to show that the victim was “habituated to sexual intercourse”, it cannot be inferred that the victim is of “loose moral character”.

The latest ruling reverses a 2016 Supreme Court ruling which said that a sex worker cannot file a case alleging rape if their customers refused to pay.

In September, India established its first national sex offenders’ registry in a bid to curb the country’s rape epidemic.

The government announced the registry following nationwide outrage over a string of high-profile cases of sexual violence against women and children. Official figures show around 40,000 rape cases are recorded in India every year.

A survey published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in June ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman.

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