The reporting of child sexual abuse cases in the media, has definitely created the curiosity needed to understand this crime and obliterated the culture of denial around it. That being said, ideas which are emerging to fight abuse, are not only short sighted, but reek of a dangerous desire to embark on a witch hunt while remaining blissfully ignorant of the factors that fuel it, to begin with.
To give you an example, in this panel discussion, Mr. Mohandas Pai, an acclaimed civil society activist, categorically suggests that we do away with male staff and teachers on campus to prevent sexual abuse and another parent concurs with him.
Not only is it wrong to present men as monsters, but rejecting male teachers aggravates an existing problem of shortage of talented teachers. In addition, rejecting men for teaching jobs, on the mere possibility of them turning out to be abusers, would violate the “innocent until proven guilty” principle which is sacred to the legal system in this country. Such a policy of rejecting men in general, by assuming them to be potentially guilty of sexual abuse without any basis whatsoever, would also constitute a violation of the right to equality under Article 14.
Another example is of the importance ascribed to CCTV cameras. CCTV cameras, at best can provide evidence once the crime is committed. And more often than not, sex offenders, especially preferential sex offenders are smart enough to lure the child to a place not covered by cameras. Situational sex offenders often involve a father abusing his daughter and this happens in the safety of our residences and our bedrooms and bathrooms. Should we then install cameras there too?
Many a times, there is no policy around CCTV footage. In a case that I had dealt with, a sex offender facing trial, tried to enter the apartment complex of the victim in violation of his bail condition. Although caught on camera, the apartment association refused to share the video citing the absence of a court order requiring them to and by the time the justice system woke up to it, the footage was gone. In the absence of clearly defined policies and guidelines on cctv footage, their presence would make no noticeable difference.
But who can blame Mr. Pai or the people who want to listen to him or anyone for that matter voicing out suggestions like the above?
After all, fear and ignorance form a potent combination which does more to sustain the problem, rather than address it. The innocence in their opinions only convinces us of the greater need to disseminate good information and to that end, no effort should be spared. Be it Enfold or Tulir, their role and their significance is greater than ever now. Because people are looking for someone who can tell them that children can be protected and we can fight this crime. That someone has to be an expert with experience and objectivity, not just a concerned third party who is scared, albeit justifiably. We, as concerned parents, uncles and teachers, would be wise to listen to Enfold and Tulir when they speak, because they know this subject inside out.
But that requires us to listen. Are we then willing to be open minded and listen to those who should be heard, like Vidya Reddy of Tulir or Dr. Sangeeta Saksena or Dr. Shaibya at Enfold? Children cannot learn to protect their bodies and minds, until they are convinced that they are worth protecting and not just a liability to the world. To convince them of their worth, we have to live the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child and not just read it.
It begins with simple changes, like for example respecting a child’s right to an opinion and his/her freedom to express it. It involves asking the child’s permission and convincing them if permission not granted, as to why they need to hold a parent’s hand to cross the road.
Through these practises, we assure the child that its body is its property, that nothing can happen without its permission and that, wherever, its opinions and wishes are not respected, it constitutes unsafe behaviour meriting a complaint to the parent (the non offending one) and the teacher. Unfortunately or fortunately, child protection is not independent of child development and in that path, everything from the way we look at the child at home, at school and everywhere else, should change considerably.
Do these practises work?
Well John Douglas, an acclaimed FBI profiler who spent decades catching serial sex offenders, categorically states in his book “Journey Into Darkness” that children with strong self esteem are less likely to be sexually abused. So yes, Enfold and Tulir’s advise does make sense and they do work. Why then do we not listen? Well, that’s a good question to ponder about, isn’t it?
Let us understand one thing: If these incidents of rape have eroded faith in humanity and created mistrust in our men, regardless of conduct, then the rapist has won and we have lost. If our trust in the goodness of the world is replaced by a morbid fear of it and we pass on this fear to our children, thus destroying their normal growth, the rapist has won!
But if we take a breather, listen to the right people with an open mind and agree to take tough steps to change our attitudes for the sake of our children, then that is the first lesson of caution to the rapist. So, for the sake of our children, lets fight smart instead of fighting scared.
Read More by Ashok G.V.
~ Advocate and Managing Partner, CorLit Legal
Image Source: 1,