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Kerala #MeToo: Survivors Refrain From Filing Complaints Due to 'Legal Tangle'

Inaction by the police, granting of bail to the accused and slut-shaming has dampened the hopes of the survivors.

Updated
Kerala #MeToo: Survivors Refrain From Filing Complaints Due to 'Legal Tangle'
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Vijay Babu, Producer and Actor
Accused of rape
Got bail despite being absconding in a foreign country for over a month

Sujeesh PS, Tattoo Artist
Accused of rape and sexual assault by seven women
Released on bail in 33 days

Anez Ansari, Make-up Artist
Accused of sexual assault by seven women
No time in custody, anticipatory bail given

Muhammad Aboobaker aka Fashion Guru Lukman, Photographer

Accused of sexual assault of a minor

Released on bail in 42 days

The Quint has gathered that at least five sexual harassment and rape survivors have decided not to file formal complaints alleging sexual harassment due to the uncertainty that the legal process may take time.

When an 18-year-old girl took to Reddit on 2 March to share her account of being sexually assaulted by a tattoo artist in Kochi, it led to a cascading effect with over 25 women speaking up on social media.

Rosalin* (name changed) was apprehensive to register a complaint with the police as the incident took place two years ago and she was living with her husband and child.

“I spoke to my husband and wanted to file a complaint but then what’s the point? Despite this becoming a #MeToo movement and Kerala being the most literate state, the accused is out on bail. This may take months for trial and I have to live in constant fear of intimidation by the abuser. The law is moving at a snail’s pace and I no longer want to file a complaint,” she said.

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Living in Fear in Anticipation of Justice

Since March, social media has empowered several women to break the silence, report incidents of sexual assault by high-profile men, and reach out to more survivors.

“It is not that just in the last four months, sexual abuse has risen in the state. Many of these complaints allege incidents that date back to two to five years. This is always happening and we want women to come forward and register complaints. We will assure complete safety for the women and only their complaints can help us nab these men,” said a senior police officer based in Kochi.

As per the latest data of the Kochi city police, only 32 instances of rape and 48 cases of molestation have been reported between January and May this year. It is the arduous process of law that has derailed the confidence of the survivors, some survivors say.

Advocate Raghul Sudheesh who has represented the survivors in the tattoo case told The Quint, “The most difficult task is to convince survivors to file legal complaints. But when they ask me how long it will take for the accused to get punished, I don’t have an answer. So many survivors in this case refused to file complaints after seeing how the accused got bail real soon.”

Recently, a minor was sexually assaulted during a photoshoot allegedly by Kochi-based celebrity photographer Muhammaed Aboobaker, popularly known as Fashion Guru Lukman. Her mother Reema* (name changed) questioned the legal system for releasing a child offender on bail within 42 days.

“We registered a complaint the same day as the incident. When I had called him that day, he said that if he has hurt us he will do anything to make up for it. We found out through the police that he was accused of sexual abuse two years ago also but he made a settlement of sorts and made the complaint disappear. Now he is roaming free. He could reach out to us any time to strike a deal. Everyday that my baby goes to school, I live in fear."
Reema*, Mother of a Sexual Assault Survivor

Since the incident took place her family has been physically and emotionally drained but they are keen to challenge the bail order.

“When we asked the police when we will get judgment, they informed us that cases that began in 2019 are reaching the completion of trial only now. The police say we need to wait for at least six months for the judgment but we have found out it will take longer. So, for how many days should my child and her family live anticipating justice? Meanwhile, he will still be interacting with kids and women and we don’t know how many more people he is doing this to,” she added.

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Survivors Dampened by Hopelessness

Several survivors said that they had to fight societal stigma and opposition from their husbands and parents before taking the legal route. However, inaction and slut shaming, have dampened their hopes.

Arshooti from Kochi has been collating the accounts of women in several such cases and empowering them to speak to the police and get legal aid. In March when The Quint spoke to her, she was enthused to follow every complaint through and ensure the women get justice. Four months later today, she said she has lost all hope.

“It not even just about fear but a sense of hopelessness. A survivor musters the courage, fights with familial ties to speak up, files the complaint, faces vulgar talk during investigation and medical examination… and after all this there is no assurance of a conclusive judgement. The legal procedure is tiring. Everyone is shaming the women who spoke up; but no one seems to be talking about the accused who are happily out on bail.”
Arshooti, Survivor

Sudheesh said that in many cases women are subject to rude behaviour and an obnoxious line of questioning during investigation and medical examination.

“The child is first made to state her complaint to the police, then the magistrate, then to an investigating officer and then at the court during trial. And if this is stretched out, then for a long time, the child will be made to relive that assault. How is it okay to subject a child to such trauma over and over again when all she wants is to forget that day,” said the child’s mother.

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‘Accused Must Have No Way to Escape Law'

In all these cases of alleged sexual assault, the bail was awarded under the conditions that the accused shall not leave the state, shall appear before the investigating officer whenever summoned and shall not contact or interact with the survivor or witnesses.

“Bail has been granted to all these accused as per legal terms. We can’t keep them in custody until they are proven guilty. We understand this has led to a lot of hesitation but we want to assure that we treat every allegation in a gender-neutral manner and will try our best to accelerate the process of getting justice. But we need survivors to trust us and speak to us,” said a senior police officer from Thiruvananthapuram.

The Quint spoke to survivors and advocates who collectively opined that the legal process needs to be sensitised and streamlined.

Reema* said that a “chargesheet should be filed within three months after the complaint is filed so that the punishment is awarded and everyone can start moving on from that trauma.”

Sudheesh stated that the recent move by the Kerala High Court to set up Vulnerable Witnesses Deposition Centres at all courts in the state, could provide survivors and witnesses with a safe and conducive environment to testify bravely during a criminal trial.

As per the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court, the centres will have comfort items like blankets, stuffed toys, and books for the child survivors, to reduce their mental agony. To avoid having a face-to-face interaction with the accused or police, a live link will be set up in a waiting room where the survivor will be seated.

Saravanan, an advocate with the Madras High Court said, “The need of the hour is to change the attitude of the society and the state government to ensure that the accused does not escape the law.”

A survivor who faced sexual harassment when she went for a makeup trial told The Quint, “I cannot believe I believed in this system and relived may trauma by sharing it with my family and the world. But looking at how every abuser is roaming freely today, I don’t think I will ever speak up again. It is a man’s world and will always be.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from south-india

Topics:  Sexual Harassment   Rape   Kerala 

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