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.