For the world, the recent Bengaluru mass molestations may be an eerie repeat of the NYE 2015/16 sexual assaults in Germany, but for India, it is only the latest addition to a series of crimes. A series that we’ve become desensitised to because of the sheer volume of similar stories that we’re accustomed to seeing on the news every day.
Outrage. Vent. Tut-tut at how the world is going to hell. Tell your friends about the time when you encountered a pervert. Click on another article. Move on. Until the next rape grabs headlines and the cycle begins all over again.
The countless opinion pieces and angry social media posts all pose the same set of questions. What if it happened to you? What if you or someone you know was raped or molested?
Seriously though. What if it did? Here’s a guide to the series of events that will unfold if you decide to seek justice.
What Happens When You Call a Helpline?
What Happens When You Approach the Police?
Are you prepared to deal with hostile and insensitive policemen? Be prepared to be questioned about your actions or your choice of clothing at the time of the crime.
Police personnel cannot refuse to register an FIR. This is only one of a whole set of rules that are in place for proper handling of rape cases. Whether or not they are followed, however, is a different matter altogether.
"One part of the problem is certainly attitudes. A lot of government officials, especially police, allow negative and damaging stereotypes of rape survivors being promiscuous to interfere with their duties," Aruna Kashyap told Reuters.
When a rape survivor comes forward and tries to make a complaint at the police station, they often face hostility or scepticism about what they have experienced.Aruna Kashyap, Women’s Rights Researcher for Human Rights Watch
What Happens When You Seek Medical Attention?
The ridiculous Per Vaginal (two-finger) test may no longer hold any value in a court of law but be prepared to undergo it at some hospitals. Here’s an excerpt from a 2010 Human Rights Watch report called ‘Dignity on Trial’:
In another gangrape case, the survivor was made to sit for six hours after the medical examination inside the labour room without even being allowed to change out of her bloodied clothes and shower.‘Dignity on Trial’, a Human Rights Watch report
The report is full of horrifying instances like these, just in case you thought a rape case would invoke some compassion. But certainly, post-exposure prophylaxis’ (PEP) treatment for HIV/AIDS must be mandatory, right? Wrong again.
What Happens When You Seek Legal Assistance?
Courts cannot harass a rape survivor by asking for corroborative evidence to prove allegations, the Supreme Court held in December 2016. Easier said than done, however – thanks to the low conviction rates that are a direct result of shoddy investigation at every level before the matter even gets to court.
To make matters worse, the fast-track courts that were set up after the 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder have joined the rest of the Indian courts in terms of pending cases. You may never get justice. Do you know how many survivors simply give up because the case stretches on for too long?
Bear in mind that all of the above is applicable only if you are an unmarried woman. The Indian legal system is still a long way off from dealing with cases involving male survivors of rape, female perpetrators, and marital rape.
What Will People Say?
Politicians will make comments like “where there is sugar, there will be ants”. Some will blame your affinity for chowmein or denim, while others will compare you to “diamonds that are left out on the street”.
The people in neighbourhood will suddenly have something to talk while they sip on their afternoon tea.
A careless reporter may accidentally reveal your name or other personal details. And the unwarranted glare that is on you will grow stronger.
You will get plenty of unwarranted attention, and the limelight will make it clear to you that it is easier for most people to blame the victim.
Should You Just Give Up?
If you are a victim, don’t give up on the fight; no matter how daunting the road ahead may seem.
Encourage survivors to report all crimes that violate consent. No crime is too small. Spread awareness about the rights that survivors have and educate them about the legal routes that they can take. Here are a few:
- Rape complaints are not bound by time.
- If a police officer refuses to file a complaint, file one against the cop.
- If you are denied speedy medical assistance, name and shame the hospital. Social media is a good place to start.
- If the accused is threatening you or your family, work harder to bring them to book.
- If the lengthy trials tire you out, persevere because it will help keep someone else safe.
If you’ve read this far, and you’re angry at the state of affairs, then you should be. But how can you improve the situation? Here’s a tiny guide, just to get you started:
Fight the system, demand better rules to protect survivors of sexual harassment Demand safer public spaces.
No matter what you do, do not sit quiet and expect the system to change on its own. Your words matter. Your actions matter. Every time you call someone out on their insensitivity towards sexual harassment, you’re making a difference. Every time you educate someone about consent, you’re making a difference.
Do not let anyone ever tell you it’s your fault, or get away with blaming the survivor. It isn’t easy to live in a society that appears to have such a casual approach to sexual assault. This may not be a country that understands consent. But your fight will help make it one.