Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SHOULD WE REPORT ON CASES OF SEXUAL OFFENCES?



Recently while addressing a group of fellows of “Teach for India” I faced an interesting question, “when we as individuals are ill equipped to address the issue of sexual offence, should we report at all? Will it end up harming the child more, than helping?”

I was taken aback for a moment, as these are thoughts that are plaguing me for the last few weeks consistently.

A few weeks back I was caught in between a case of child sexual abuse in Gunupur, a small town in Odisha. The father of the child an assistant professor had recently moved to this place. After a lot of scouting the parents had found this school which was well reputed for its educational standards.
For this 3 yr old it was the first day in school. Like any other children, the child went to school in bright spirits. But when the child came home, she was crying and profusely bleeding. Went the mother checked up, the child’s vagina was torn. The parents rushed the child to a private hospital, where the doctor told them that it was a case of sexual assault and the child required a surgical process.
In an interesting manner the matter came to my notice the next day. When I spoke to the parents they did express their willingness to report.  I spoke to Shri Rajesh Pundit, Superintendent Of Police, Raygada, who turned out to be an extremely child friendly person.  The case was booked under POSCO. Then the challenge began, every step of the legal procedure the parents started resisting. Their contention was, that it will re-traumatize the child.

For any legal procedure, apart from the statement of the victim which will then form the First Information Report(FIR), followed by a medical examination in a government hospital and the consequent identification of the accused is more or less mandatory. But the parents who were caring for this little one and were witnessing the various levels of trauma the child was going through, found all this too much to handle.  In spite of the fact that the police was making it as child friendly as possible(most of the time the lady police went in mufti to their house, instead of calling to the police station and tried to make it comfortable for the child), the parents were vocally quite resistant.

I was caught between the police and the parents. Every time the parents would resist, the police would call me and I had to spend long hours counseling the family on the importance and need of that step. The matter became even more complicated, when the medical report revealed penetration of a blunt object (maybe fingers or fist, there is was no smears of sperms which could be taken as an evidence). The parents had already disposed of the child’s blood soaked under-wear out of ignorance. As usual all the alleged accused maintained their stand of innocence.  The only way to make an arrest was identification by the child. An effort was made, by showing pictures of alleged accused on a laptop to the child, with no clear results. Finally the only option left was physical identification. 

The family was in no mood to entertain any such thing. Both the parents were upset, angry and frustrated as the child was now showing signs of fever and was slowly withdrawing herself from others.

After resisting for more than a day finally the family relented and the child was taken for an identification parade. It was done in the most child friendly manner, with the child sitting in a room and through an outlet looking at all alleged accused. In all her innocence, although the child pointed to one person conclusively as the “bad man”, she also pointed out casually at three more persons.  Arrest was made of the one person, who till date denies having done that in spite of rigorous questioning of the police.  The fact remains however that the child was sexually assaulted.

Was it a worthwhile effort to subject the child through all this? After a few days of traumatic churning I have come to the conclusion “yes it was”.  Firstly from a child’s perspective, in a few years from now when the child remembers this traumatic episode, apart from the abuse, she will also remember how her parents stood by her, encouraging her to stand up against any violation and mostly that she did not do any “wrong” but she was wronged. This is a precious understanding very few victims all over the world have the privilege to experience, for in their silence they not only carry the shame but also a repeated reinforced message of being guilty of the crime committed on them.

Further her images of the police will not be that which evokes fear but that of support and safety. More than anything, she will grow up with the security of being heard and trusted.

From a social perspective, I am not sure who was the real culprit or whether the real culprit was actually caught, but whoever is the real culprit he will know people are not going to keep quite. The message is not only going to culprit in this case, but also to sex offenders living in that area and all potential offenders.  If everyone breaks their silence on this issue…and enforcement mechanism plays a proactive role in dealing with such cases with sensitivity and care, what we are creating is a great wall of deterrence.  Maybe there are temporary inconveniences for the victim, but it is worth it, as it will help the person look back at her fight against such violation with pride and view herself as a person of courage.
                         

20 comments:

  1. That was a really brave topic to discuss about. You have clarified a big question that had been bothering me for years. Thank you.

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  2. What a terrific personality you are ? everybody should break their silence for a better and secured society

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  3. thanks for this blog.... This answered my question.

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  4. Was it worth it ? thot provoking Question .. And I too believe it is and it will be . As you rightly pointed out a few years from now when the child knows that appropriate action was taken , it will make her feel reassured and confident instead of feeling powerless if not acted upon. Many a victims suffer the 'powerless' ness than anything else . Wonder why forensic interviewing is not developing in India as it should .....Way to go !

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  5. Thought provoking article........

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  6. Anything which can get a sex victim justice is nothing when u know ur loved ones like parents and family stood by u that loving gesture of justice is a big help to a sex victim yes keep up the gud work

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  7. I agree too that family support is a must. For a 3 year old child this is a traumatizing event and you question her or don't she will remember it. Instead family support during these times and allowing her to identify the culprit will make her more aware of her surroundings and being as she grows up. You are a wonderful lady Sunitha Krishnan...!! Hats off to your work!! Wish to meet you someday soon!! Hope that we have strict law enforced soon to punish culprits who are sex offenders.

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  8. Thank you for this blog. It was thought provoking. You are right about any victim having to hide and family support.
    But is it worth the newspaper headlines? I am speaking from the view of general public. Wish newspapers didn’t give such descriptive articles on sexual offenses. Sometimes I feel am reading a horrible porn book. I feel some people may be motivated to do such crime more by reading about them and hearing about it on all media. May be I am just being paranoid, but better be careful than later suffer. Can’t police and court keep such issues away from media or just give them the very basic information. Or rules must be made not only to hide the identity of the victim but also to censor the description of how the crime was committed.

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  9. I feel such cases should be reported. It may be traumatic for the child at that time but when she will grow up, she would feel strong and confident. Also it would help her in her later life to getover that trauma.

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  10. I strongly believe that the fact that the child's family fought to bring justice will not only act as an assuaging factor for the little girl in the future but, the parents have set an example for her on how to respond if she encounters anything of a similar nature in the coming years. Had the parents failed to support her in the manner in the way that they did and hushed up the matter, the child would only have learnt to hide rather than stand up for what's right. Rather than being a survivor that she is now, she would have become a victim. I salute the parents... and hats-off to you Dr. Sunitha for never ceasing to fight and selflessly working towards a better society...!!

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  11. I think reporting would be best for the child as well as any future victims. Perpetrators should not feel there are no consequences to their actions or that they can get away with this behavior. The child needs to know they did nothing wrong and therapy is very important. A friend of mine was molested by his babysitter. His mother found out and reported it. She then put her son into therapy for 8 years. He feels grateful that she did since he was able to let go of any guilt or shame he felt when he was younger.

    I had a family member who tried to molest me twice when I was six. I refused to cooperate the first time and had to fight him off the second time. He told me not to tell but I felt so ashamed, I wasn’t going to. He left me alone after that since he had other family members he was already doing this too. (I did not know that then.) When I was a teen, it came out that he had molested some in the family. My shame was exposed. My parents never blamed me and “forgot” about it. I spent many years filled with guilt, fear of men, weight issues, and the feeling of shame of my body. It wasn’t until I watched a show about sexual abuse in which one girl had a similar incident that I realized I wasn’t to blame. I talked to one of the family members that was molested. She was mad that I never said anything back then, so she could be saved from him. I thought I was to blame and the only victim. She has since worked out much of her issues with it but her life has been forever altered by what he did. I feel if both of us were helped when it happened and then given therapy, we may have been “healed” faster and not have lived with long term guilt as well as shame. I know she wishes he paid for what he did with jail time but he got away with it with only therapy. The family has forgiven him but I fear there are probably many, many more victims. I think reporting the crime is important both for the victim and possible future victims. I just hope that the victim gets the therapy they need as well so this doesn’t become a lifelong issue.

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  12. I agree that the trauma that the girl and her parents went through must have been tremendous...but atleast the child won't have to look over her shoulder her entire life believing the 'bad man' is still at large...

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  13. It is very sad that the kid and the family had to go through the trauma. Hope there was justice.

    There is a need to sensitize on "How to handle such cases" among the concerned (Doctors,Police, Media, NGO/ activists and family). Due to fear of bad mouthing/bad publicity within the family/neighborhood parents do fear spoiling the child's future. The process and procedures can be maintained secretive & confidential so that many such victims would dare to complain without fear of exposure (irrespective of being an victim).

    It is required to understand the reason/s behind such harassment's. Substantial study of many such cases (from Prajwala's database) to arrive at the causes/mindset/behavioral/ patterns of similar cases (@micro & macro level). This would help in preparing remedial measures that can be used to create awareness among the parents and the school authorities.

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  14. Sunita and Prajwala,

    This is something I face everyday. I didn't break my silence while I was being molested, abused through out my childhood. Although I don't feel the same pain in my vagina anymore but I feel the trauma in my guts since the abuse stopped. Not reporting the abuse doesn't lower the trauma, instead it creates emotional hurdles everyday. Reporting should be mandatory. I am sure there can be protocols developed to follow the procedure of investigation less painful for the victim as well as the family. It's all about sex-education; attitude towards justice and self-esteem.

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  15. mam this is something which even i have questioned myself a lot of time.. i totally agree that the culprit shd be punished, if he doesnt get punished someone else wud become victim again... but mam wat the girl who as go through all the non sense n d idiotic questions the cop ask her n d society... the cops ll also knw very well that she was innocent but still they make her go through all the trauma... shd she really take it all after all that she as gone through.. at times i feel its better to stay quite unless n until she s ready to face it with the support.. this is wat i feel mam...

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  16. Here it should be reported but there should be some system where the child should be represented by an assigned person. Mom is the best person to represent her at least for kids under certain age.

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  17. This should certainly be reported and some mechanism should be created that makes it is easier for the child and the parents the adhere to it. It is really tough to undergo under all theses

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  19. medical examination should be done by only female doctors in a dignified manner..

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  20. I agree to you, Sunitha Krishnan, that the legal steps should have been done in all the cases. More importantly, when that child will look back, she will at least feel that the guilty was punished and her family stood by her. That will surely give her strength than keeping quiet and just letting this go, which might not go from her memory that easily. Because in such cases , the chances are very high to reconstruct the memory than other cases.

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