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#ChildMolester | Sexually Offended Or Sexual Offenders: Wherein Lies The Answer Of Justice? | #parenting | #parenting | #kids


8 mins read
Posted by Kanika Bhatia

TW: Sexual abuse and rape

When I was about to begin writing this, I was confused. Is it a report as my feeble attempt at independent journalism or is it the aftermath of damage? The part of the story authors do not write, because follow-ups on real life horror means bringing back so much pain to life. You never know what you will unearth when the dried leaves on the floor have been raked. You don’t know what the soil can give birth to. 

I am writing it because when you google rape/molestation victims in India, there are countless articles on why, how the crime is committed but there are close to none on who circled back to these sexually offended victims and survivors to hear what they want. I’d know, because I am one of them. 

Also read: No Indian Judges, Marriage Is Not The Remedy To Sexual Abuse

Why did I choose to write it? Because it is important to be a parole officer with some wounds. It’s important to address, because we all are trying our hands at self discovery and nothing seems to make us understand this life better than that. I am writing it, because the sexually offended – that is, the countless men and women I interviewed, all of who have gone through these different experiences, still want to talk about it. Some of these survivors have stayed unheard, some closeted with what happened, and some still need to make sense of it. I am writing it because when you google rape/molestation victims in India, there are countless articles on why, how the crime is committed but there are close to none on who circled back to these sexually offended victims and survivors to hear what they want. I’d know, because I am one of them. 

Fortunately we don’t live in a lawless land, however the big book on those laws were also framed by benches of men who claimed to know better than the victim. They decided what was functional and productive as a punishment. Rape numbers, though clutching men as victims too, are largely dominated by women as the sexually offended. As Article 375 of Indian Penal Code stands, rape is something only a man can do to a woman.

As part of my research, I spoke to Dr. Madhumita Pandey, who is a doctoral researcher in criminology at Anglia Ruskin University. Having interviewed over 100 convicted sex offenders in Delhi to understand the prevalent sexual violence against women in India, she says, “Most survivors that I have spoken to want an overhauling of the system – while they want the perpetrators to serve a long sentence, they also want society and societal systems to reflect on their practices. They want to hold everyone accountable for such acts – the helplines, police, criminal justice system and society as all these aspects add to their mistreatment and injustice. Needless to say, some are also furious and want the most extreme punishments but also understand that is not going to be the long term solution.” 

A lot of the sexually offended or the survivors interviewed here are the privileged class. I think they know it too. That is also the reason, besides access, as to why I have chosen them. Crime doesn’t differentiate between its victims based on class, gender, age. To demographically frame it for you, they are all men and women between the ages of 21-40. All of them are educated, working men and women. Most of them experienced sexual assault as young adults and teenagers. Most of them did not take any legal action against the perpetrator of the said crime. 

Our criminal justice system is based on three broad questions: What law was broken? Who broke it? And what should the punishment be? But like most justice systems in the world, they forget to ask, what about the person who lost? As Rega Jha wrote comprehensively in one of her weekly newsletter, “When we say justice, we mean revenge. The person most harmed is the person left bleeding.” They say “hurt people hurt people” and that the system is broken. There is a strong line of justification as to why the criminal did what he did (patriarchy, frustration, upbringing etc).

Our society very easily keeps itself in the criminal’s shoes, but of the sexually offended or the victims, it remains critical at best. Most of the women who reached out to me, were strongly against death penalty. 

But then what punishment is really potent and constructive in a crime as heinous as this? 

What is the way forward then? Is it restorative justice? The three large ideas under it being repair, encounter and transformation. It’s the mechanism that believes civilised societies need not follow the rules of jungle. Harm need not be reciprocated with harm necessarily. It believes in the power of arbitration and communication to decide suitable punishments which is mutually decided by both parties. This system of justice is entrusted to make the much needed repair to people, relationships and communities. It is tough to imagine this system penetrating the rural community immediately because the stigma is so entrenched. Deeply entrenched caste biases prevail, deals are struck, money is exchanged and that’s that. No police, no system, no laws.

What Is The Way Forward?

Astha doesn’t believe in aggressive remedies, death penalty for any crime being extreme. She recognises counselling and isolation of sorts as effective remedies. On the other end of the spectrum we have Sujata. She doesn’t believe we punish them enough or too hard. She raises a valid question here: “Why are murders rare but rapes comparatively not? Because it is explicit what happens to murderers but rarely do people know for sure what happens to rapists.” Is it a matter of case to case? Are blanket solutions not possible because conditions in which the sexual assault happens differ, the sexually offended or the victim differs, the state of mental health differs?

Personally (because no matter how hard you try to not make it about yourself, you’re part of the story), I have realised how dichotomous solutions are dangerous. Few years back, a younger me would have preferred the harshest physical treatment for him. The 30-year-old me hopes that he has registered his crime, and secretly hates he has a daughter. He doesn’t deserve her.  

If considered biologically, we have our defense reflexes and our instinct system designed to right the wrong. If we are genetically wired to tribe loyalties, greed, revenge, denial and forgiveness, it means there are conflicting forces at play here, the battle between which leads to some amount of relief for the sexually offended/survivor: forgiveness or ruthless punishment, then becomes a ground of contention.

In the same newsletter as mentioned earlier, Rega writes, “Vengeance is evolutionarily useful because by harming someone back, we make it less likely that they’ll harm us again. It’s meant to protect us. To deter wrongdoing. Forgiveness is evolutionarily useful because we need lasting relationships in order to live and it’s inevitable that the people we have relationships with, will occasionally harm us.”

A large number of unreported cases (whether out of shame, the shambolic criminal system, political pressures, etc.) communicate forgiveness to these offenders. So is our silence on the matter emboldening this vulturine behaviour? “Realistically speaking, that means only about 90 women each day have the courage to report that they have been sexually violated,” calculates an Economic Times article. According to government data, nearly four women are raped every hour in this country. Do the math.  

Survivors Or Victims?

Chirag, sick of the labelling, beautifully explains, “I am going to refer to all of them as ‘faith’ hereon.” Sujata doesn’t wish to be addressed as a survivor. She prefers the term victim because IT is a crime, and by extended definition she feels wronged like a victim of a crime would be. Pranshi prefers injured party. Ankita raises a very valid argument: the term needs to serve a two fold purpose, it needs to end pity for the injured party and not leave a bitter aftertaste when addressed. She prefers the term fighter. Ankita’s offender is a father to a daughter. She fears the safety of that young girl.

Akshay is no longer impacted, he doesn’t dream bad. But he fails to understand how the crime is justified whether by upbringing, regression or clothes. No age, gender barriers on the range of victims removes everything as a logical defense. He needs the world to stop defining failures on external factors. Preferably, by working in the direction of busting these rape myths. He says and I quote, “He had the power to make me feel sorry for him. Me? The one who was bleeding between my thighs at that very moment, felt sorry for HIM.” I failed to fathom this. 

The New ‘Normal’

Over the last few decades, in matters of sexual crimes, there has been but slight improvement. The increase in the numbers of those who have been sexually offended haven’t been pleasant, but there has been better reporting. However, more reporting with no reduction in the crime itself, has done one thing. It has normalised the concept of it. “Normal” is harmless, nothing out of the ordinary and hence not alarming.

There is a strong difference between statistical normal and what people adapt as normal. Patriarchy, caste-based crimes and now COVID-19, over long and short periods of time have been accepted as normal within our ecosystem. More the occurrence and repetition of a phenomenon, the less is it worthy of outrage.

Also read: The Ticking Bomb Called Online Child Sexual Abuse

The increase in the numbers of those who have been sexually offended haven’t been pleasant, but there has been better reporting. However, more reporting with no reduction in the crime itself, has done one thing. It has normalised the concept of it. “Normal” is harmless, nothing out of the ordinary and hence not alarming.

Statistically speaking, gender specialists in 2012 ranked India the worst place among G-20 countries to be a woman, worse even than Saudi Arabia where women have to live under the supervision of a male guardian. As per an Economic Times blog, according to government data, nearly four women are raped every hour in this country. What seems overwhelming in numbers, however, is so widely ignored in the country. When three men were convicted in 2014, for the gang rape of a journalist, Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi party said: “Boys make mistakes. They should not hang for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.”

https://parentsecurityonline.com/
Rape was normalised when keeping distance between the criminal and the sexually offended or the victim was what our parents found the best option. Image Source: Srishti Sharma/Feminism in India

Normalisation of rape began at home turf. It began with us accepting it as another shameful part of this culture. It began when parents along with the rest of the society thought shutting up is always better than bad publicity. It began when criminals were paid off to leave towns, erring relatives were politely asked to give their house a skip for yearly visits. It was normalised when keeping distance between the criminal and the sexually offended or the victim was what our parents found the best option. 

Chirag Khurana, a lawyer hailing from the rape capital of the country, is divided on what he feels about his bread and butter. He is a sexual offence lawyer, these crimes feed him. When enquired if monetary compensations play the balm on the burn, he said, “Satisfaction is subjective, the victims are too fragile and young to voice the same and this makes it a wasteful exercise since in true cases it leaves an indelible mark and I think the parents of the complainant misuse the monetary compensation, since complainant and his family might not be a family of means. And so, I doubt that the same is used for building their future.”

In an interview to Kamala Thiagrajan, Dr. Pandey expressed how her face-to-face observations of sexual offenders provide “a valuable resource to the counselling community, policymakers, researchers and legislators when grappling with how to rehabilitate this specific type of sexual offender.” What if the solution lies with the perpetrators? To know the ideal break even point of satisfaction for the sexually offended, and remorse for the offender, maybe revenge is more science than art. 


Kanika Bhatia works as a lifestyle, gender and political writer. She represents new and upcoming startups for their marketing and content strategy. Her expertise lies with product placements, collaboration, NBD and communication strategy. She also runs her own fashion label Anome Couture designed for women entrepreneurs on the run. She believes in the power of story-telling and runs a podcast and blog under #SheSaidIt. She can be found on Instagram and Facebook.  

Featured Image Source: Aasawari Kulkarni/Feminism In India

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