Child Sexual Abuse – Before we extend support to the Michael Brown family and point fingers at the American Justice system, we need a long hard look into the mirror, because things are going drastically wrong here in India. I was dealing with a child sexual abuse case in which an offender was in violation of his bail conditions. Although the police authorities were quickly brought on the scene, the accused eventually walked away with just a scare.
The officials of the jurisdictional Police Station, who were in the scene of the incident just continuously refused to provide an official report of having spotted the Accused in the vicinity of the victim and other prosecution witnesses. Forget arresting the guy for violating bail conditions, they were reluctant to even provide an official report that the Accused was in the premises where he was eventually discovered! Is it too much to ask them to state the truth of what transpired?!
One key witness in the same case happens to be abroad and the police are refusing to pursue that lead altogether, supported by what they, is an opinion of the former director of public prosecution. Apparently it is not possible to even make an attempt to solicit the co-operation of the witness, let alone secure it. If this were to be true, then the entire foundation of the Indian Penal Code, which has extra-territorial jurisdiction, is rendered toothless and without any utility.
But there are no consequences to such inaction and no meaningful way to ensure change of approach. What I have discovered, as also noted by Nicholas Groth in his book “Men who rape: The Psychology of the Offender”, is that, unless the rape victim has visible injuries, she will not earn society’s sympathy. Therefore, if by bad luck, the victim fearing for her life doesn’t resist the rape, she is as good as demonised in our eyes.
I sometimes wonder if policy loopholes are to blame or if it is the people in charge of enforcing them that are to blame. On the policy front, bail is a huge problem. I have had cases where the families virtually beg me to ensure that the offender doesn’t come out on bail, because then the anxiety just multiplies. But the law stipulates that bail is the rule and imprisonment is the exception. This long standing tradition hasn’t changed, nor does anyone feel it necessary to issue some caveats for granting bail in case of sexual violence.
On the personnel front, a police officer or even an ordinary citizen’s sense of justice, barely aligns with the laws of the land. For example, despite it being criminal for an adult man to engage in sexual relations with a minor girl, it doesn’t bother us if, the girl willingly consented or even initiated the sexual liaison. This is in turn a result of the ignorance of the dynamics of sexual violence. But I have also realised that ignorance is a choice the police make, despite having opportunities to access better information, as I discovered from hearing an official of the SJPU speak, at a recently held excuse for a sensitisation program in a school situated in North Bangalore. I justwish they would tell us, the ones who have this information, as to how we could present it to them, in a way that is appealing. But no such feedback is forthcoming till date and this makes dissemination of information an enormous pain and an overwhelming challenge.
Disinterest and selective incompetence, found virtually in every case of child sexual abuse I have dealt with, is making child sexual abuse investigations and trials the biggest source of anxiety and stress for the families and the victims involved. It is therefore nothing but gross insensitivity on the part of the Parliament to insist, vide the POCSO Act, that anyone having knowledge or apprehension of a case of child sexual abuse has to mandatorily report it.
If the state can’t guarantee the right response to such reporting, then it shouldn’t insist on mandatory reporting also. Alternatively, at least let there be a complaints resolving mechanism which is meaningful and action oriented, rather than child protection systems and women’s commissions that do nothing more than write letters expressing support for victims.
It is frustrating when the men in charge of administering justice don’t approach their job with gusto and enthusiasm. It is irreparably damaging, when the men we trust to keep us away from the temptation to punish perpetrators ourselves, are afraid to do their jobs. What will it take to move them around? Will we ever find empathy among our people for victims of brutal crimes? These are questions that bother me, not so much because of the lack of answers, but because we are at a place that has made such questions necessary. It only reflects the cruelty and the darker realities that define the place and time we live in. How do we then assure ourselves of safety or the right to live a life of liberty, dignity with freedom to pursue happiness?
Kennedy once famously, said “Ask not what the country can do for you, but ask for you can do for the country”. Will all due respect, it is time the state answered the question about what it can do for us, because right about now, citizens are disappointed and frustrated.…..
Read More By Ashok G.V.